International seminar addresses BC findings on Nurse-Family Partnership

March 23, 2021

Recently invited to deliver an international seminar about the British Columbia Healthy Connections Project, scientific director Dr. Nicole Catherine spoke to a group of researchers, policymakers and practitioners from around the world. Catherine began by describing the sustained research-policy-practitioner collaborations that support the 10-year Canadian scientific study of the Nurse Family Partnership (NFP) that is being conducted in BC in four Regional Health Authorities.

NFP was developed nearly 40 years ago by Dr. David Olds and colleagues in the United States, to help girls and young women and their children who are facing disadvantages such as low income. The program starts early — in pregnancy, before children are even born — and involves intensive home visits by public health nurses, continuing until children reach their second birthday.

The study is what Catherine described as a “robust” size, with 739 participants and their 727 children, with 200 of these mothers identifying as Indigenous. An analysis of participant characteristics at study entry, in early pregnancy, was published in 2019 showing that the trial reached pregnant girls and young women experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage (i.e., young age, preparing to parent while single, having limited income, having limited education).

Many (47–56%) had associated health and social adversities including unstable housing, a history of childhood maltreatment, or severe anxiety or depression. In fact, 90% were experiencing three or more adversities. “Our data show unacceptable rates of socioeconomic disadvantage for some BC girls and young women who are preparing to parent for the first time,” Catherine told the group. “NFP was designed to support these children and these young mothers.”

While the research interviews were completed in November 2019, analysis is continuing. Main outcome results showing how well NFP works in BC are expected to be announced in 2021/2022. In the meantime, two findings have already been identified.

  • Prenatal findings published in the academic journal, Canadian Medical Association Journal Open suggest that NFP reduced the number of cigarettes smoked, for pregnant smokers — which is important, given that even low-level cigarette smoking is harmful to a fetus. NFP also reduced prenatal cannabis use, an emerging public health problem.
  • The BC Healthy Connections Project achieved an outstanding participant retention rate (83%–91%) for the six research interviews conducted with each family starting in pregnancy and through until children reached aged two years. The study team successfully completed 4,000 in-person and telephone interviews over six years. This was especially encouraging, Catherine said, because girls and young women experiencing considerable disadvantage are often considered “hard-to-reach” by researchers and practitioners. The study team’s development and use of a standardized retention protocol helped them engage and retain this underserved population. “The onus is on us,” says Catherine. “It’s not that these families are ‘hard-to-reach’— it’s that we ‘need-to-reach’ them.”

The seminar was followed by a conversation with researchers, policymakers and practitioners in various countries around the globe currently considering, evaluating or implementing NFP. This list included Australia, Bulgaria, England, Northern Ireland, United States, Norway and Scotland. Videos from all presenters may be viewed here; Catherine’s presentation is third on the list.