Nurse-Family Partnership

  • Medicine & Health
  • 1979

Research has shown that unmarried, poor, and teenage mothers are much more prone to problems of infant mortality, neglect and abuse, fetal-alcohol and drug damage, accidental injury, household poisonings, impaired mental development due to understimulation, attachment disorders, and other maladies that wreak costly, often permanent damage on children. In 1979, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation launched efforts to head off these sorts of problems before they take root. It supported a demonstration project in Elmira, New York, that used registered nurses to bring preventive health services right into the homes of young, low-income pregnant women and first-time mothers.

Careful follow-up studies conducted in Elmira and then Memphis, Tennessee, and Denver showed that the home visits resulted in better health and development for both children and mothers, and less subsequent abuse, crime, and school failure. For instance, child abuse and neglect injuries were reduced 20-50 percent. Subsequent births by the mothers during their teens or early twenties were reduced 10-20 percent.

Called the Nurse-Family Partnership, the Elmira program became the model for a national program of home visits. The organization was set up as a 501(c)(3) charity, and research, manuals, training, and documentation needed to duplicate the program with a high level of quality were funded not only by Robert Wood Johnson but also by donors like the Edna McConnell Clark, Gates, Kellogg, and Kresge foundations. As the Nurse-Family Partnership gradually spread across the country it regularly updated its services—for instance with efforts aimed at discouraging partner abuse. Sponsored by nonprofits, private organizations, or local agencies of government, it is now offered in 432 counties in 40 states. An estimated 860 registered nurses are active as home visitors and more than 22,000 mothers are counseled in any given year.