Creating Great Parents

The Nurse Family Partnership at UT Permian Basin connects first-time mothers with local nurses to support healthy families

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Story by Kathryn Lundstrom
Population Health Scholar
University of Texas System
MA Student in Journalism
UT Austin Moody College of Communication

Photos by Ivy Ashe
Population Health Scholar
University of Texas System
PhD Student in Journalism
UT Austin Moody College of Communication

 

The Nurse Family Partnership (NFP) is a nationwide, evidence-based community health program that aims to empower vulnerable first-time mothers to transform their lives and create better futures for themselves and their babies. NFP connects specially trained nurses with mothers to provide education, care, and mentoring from the time of referral up to two years after birth. The model provides expectant mothers with an expert resource during this critical time, improving health outcomes for both the mother and child.

There are multiple NFP sites in Texas, including one funded by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) and implemented by staff at The University of Texas of the Permian Basin. HHSC funds a similar program at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler. Texas Health Journal had the unique opportunity to visit Midland-Odessa to learn about the important work happening at UT Permian Basin meet one of the families benefiting from the local NFP. We invite you to join us through the following photo essay.

 
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Sweeping her bangs out of her eyes, 23-year-old Rowan Macias (center) smiled shyly as she told the nurse about 4-month-old Evan’s newest skill: rolling over. Later he demonstrated his new skill, and Macias lit up. “I get so happy when he does it!” she said.

Tonya Clark (right), 47, works with Macias and her family as part of the Nurse Family Partnership program at UT Permian Basin. The range of challenges that clients may be confronting can vary immensely, says Clark. Some are high-risk on multiple fronts. Others, like Macias and her family, are doing well, but still can benefit from the support that NFP provides.

“I hate to use the word normal,” said Clark, but Macias has “no issues.” She has been with her husband, Alex, for 10 years, and they were married in 2014.

 
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From left to right: Dr. Diana Ruiz (Interim Director), Dorothy Bridges, RN (Nurse Home Visitor), Tonya Clark, RN, IBCLC (Nurse Home Visitor), Cheyenne Alvarez (Administrative Assistant), Jessica Bowen, BSN, RN (Nurse Home Visitor), Vanessa Gonzalez, MSN, RN (Nurse Supervisor), Dr. Dorothy Jackson (Dean, College of Nursing).

NFP’s team of nurses get connected to most of their clients through pregnancy crisis centers like BirthRight, Child Protective Services, and referrals from clinicians or school counselors. Clients range anywhere from 12- or 13-years-old up to around 40. About half have a parenting partner, and around a fifth are married, said Vanessa Gonzalez, who is a nurse supervisor with the program

 
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Even without some of the high risk factors that Clark sees in many of her clients –– domestic violence, drug abuse, custody battles, foster families or CPS involvement, for example –– Clark’s home visits with Macias provide invaluable information to the new mother that she would have been unlikely to get otherwise.

“A lot of things I’ve learned I wouldn’t have known,” said Macias. She stays at home during the days with Evan and her sister’s 7-year-old. Her husband works for his uncle’s produce delivering business, and doesn’t usually get any days off.

Macias looks forward to Clark’s hour-long visits, she said. “I don’t go anywhere, so I like the company.” Right after Evan was born, Clark was visiting weekly. After the first four to six weeks, she usually cuts down to visiting every other week as the mothers fall into more of a routine.

 
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After showing off Evan’s tummy time progress when we walked in the door, Macias got down to business. What does it mean, she asked, if her son stops eating abruptly? She thought he was hungry, she said, but he stopped nursing when we arrived. Should she be worried? “If he was really hungry, he’ll let you know,” Clark reassured her.

Ector County, of which Odessa is the city seat, has one of the highest teen pregnancies rates in the state. Some of that is exacerbated by the oil boom, said Clark.

“There’s not a lot of supervision.” Gonzalez agreed. “There’s not a lot of stuff for kids to do here,” she said, aside from work, eat and go to the bar. “There’s not a lot of after school stuff.”

Before joining NFP, Clark spent over a decade working with the federal Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food and nutrition service, where she was a breast feeding coordinator. That’s been one of her strongest impacts on the NFP program at UTPB. “Our breastfeeding rates are through the roof,” said Vanessa Gonzalez, the program’s supervisor. “And that’s a lot because of Tonya.”

 

Macias’ baby, Evan, has been 100 percent breastfed, said Clark. Macias often calls Clark to ask for advice if she needs help troubleshooting, and she passes along a lot of that information to friends who don’t have the same kind of parenting support. “It’s 100 percent awesome,” said Macias.

 
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Though the program formally ends when the child turns two, Clark keeps in touch with a lot her former clients. “Not every client is in dire need, but later on you’ll see them at Walmart or something and know you impacted their lives,” she said.