Helping BC’s children meet their potential

April 6, 2015

mental health and development as children progressCharlotte Waddell believes children are so important that society should ensure their wellbeing even before they are born. So, together with a large team of research and policy collaborators, she is studying the effectiveness of the landmark Nurse-Family Partnership program in Canada for the first time. The study is called the BC Healthy Connections Project (BCHCP).

Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) is a home visiting program. It involves public health nurses providing intensive supports to disadvantaged young women who are preparing to parent for the first time. Visits start early in pregnancy and continue until children reach their second birthday. The young women develop long-term relationships with the nurses, which is a crucial part of how the program works.

The BCHCP involves a randomized controlled trial of the program’s impact – looking at mothers’ wellbeing, and at children’s health and development from birth through age two. In essence, the research team will compare NFP with BC’s existing maternal and child health and social services.

BC’s participating Health Authorities are seeking 1,000 mothers and children to take part in the BCHCP over the next two years. But beyond this, Waddell hopes that the research team can follow these children and families for 10 years or more. The goal? To look at mental health and development as children progress through early, middle childhood and into their adolescent years.

“We know from US studies that many program benefits actually show up much later – in 10, 15 or 20 years,” Waddell says. “So, in a sense, completing the immediate evaluation of Nurse-Family Partnership is just the first step.”

For example, the team would like to learn whether Nurse-Family Partnership helps prevent kids from developing serious anxiety, depression, behaviour and substance misuse problems. As well, the team is curious about how Nurse-Family Partnership might affect academic achievement – from school entry into the high school years. There are other potential benefits, too, such as reducing the number of children going into foster care – and even reducing mortality for children and mothers.

Beyond these potential benefits for children, it may turn out that Nurse-Family Partnership is a good fiscal investment. In the US, NFP has shown a return on investment of more than $18,000 for every family served. This includes savings across healthcare, income support, youth justice, child protection and other public sectors. “So we’re setting the stage to test cost effectiveness, too.”

But the real reason to care? Says Waddell: “It’s about making sure that all BC children have the chance to flourish and meet their potential.”

Note that NFP is available only through the BC Healthy Connections Project for the duration of recruitment. Practitioners or young pregnant women can click here for details on eligibility for the BCHCP.