Babies herald launch of BCHCP

January 30, 2013

Some 50 babies have now been born to moms enrolled in the BC Healthy Connections Project (BCHCP).

Every baby is a miracle. But these 50 are extra-special miracles because they herald the launch of an exciting new research project.

They are all part of phase 1 of the BCHCP that started in the summer of 2012. “The goal is for BC public health nurses to practise and consolidate their newly acquired skills,” says Nicole Catherine, Scientific Director for BCHCP.

The purpose of BCHCP is to conduct a scientific evaluation of the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) prevention program. Developed by David Olds in the United States more than 30 years ago, NFP involves nurses visiting young mothers in their homes, starting prenatally and continuing until children are two years old.

NFP’s creators had three primary goals for the program: improving prenatal outcomes, preventing child maltreatment, and enhancing parental competence and economic self-sufficiency. Because NFP was always intended as a targeted primary prevention program, the developers focused on high-risk, low-income, first-time mothers. NFP has been shown to reduce child maltreatment and antisocial behaviour while also improving child and maternal mental health over the long term.

But the question remains: can this success be repeated in Canada?

The first Canadian pilot study of NFP was conducted in Ontario through collaboration between the Offord Centre for Child Studies at McMaster University and Hamilton Public Health Services.

Public health nurses there felt it took them at least a year to understand and feel comfortable with all aspects of the NFP program. For this reason, phase 1 of the BCHCP was launched.

To begin phase 1, 52 public health nurses and 10 supervisors came to Vancouver in February 2012 to receive four-and-a-half days of education focused on the NFP model where they enhanced their skills in motivational interviewing. As well, supervisors had an additional three days of education.

The public health nurses also received resource materials to use to support moms. “Once you get the hang of it the program is really quite simple, but it’s not uncomplicated at first,” says Debbie Sheehan, the BCHCP Senior Nursing Consultant. “The resource materials cover the three different phases of the program — pregnancy, infancy and toddler — which is why the nurses need time to practise.”

Mercedes McLean, who has been a nurse for 25 years and who works with the Fraser Health Authority, says she leapt at the opportunity to join the BCHCP because she welcomed the deeper connections with families. “This is an absolutely incredible opportunity to work alongside families with their struggles,” she says, “while recognizing the strengths they have and encouraging those strengths.”

McLean said she’s particularly happy that she’s already welcomed two babies — one is five months, the other a newborn — and she’s looking forward to even more education. “It’s help to build my strengths and my knowledge base,” she says. “I feel blessed to have this opportunity.” Now, the BCHCP study team is organizing phase 2 — a randomized controlled trial and process evaluation to ascertain NFP’s effectiveness across BC.