Study milestone reached

December 14, 2016

BC Healthy Connections recruitment closing as planned

Recruitment into the randomized controlled trial known as the BC Healthy Connections Project (BCHCP) closed on Dec. 16.

This recruitment — which started three years ago, in October 2013 — stood at 739 families at time of closure, a sample size large enough to estimate the effects of the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) program in BC. Some 100 of these families have already completed the research study.

With NFP, public health nurses visit young women who are pregnant and preparing to parent for the first time. Aimed at mothers whose circumstances place them at risk for vulnerability, the program provides them with home visits and intensive supports until their child’s second birthday. NFP starts very early in life — prenatally — allowing it to influence child development right from the start.

“We’re very proud to be reaching this study milestone,” says Scientific Director, Nicole Catherine. Her feeling is echoed by another study lead, Charlotte Waddell, who emphasizes the teamwork involved. “This has been an enormous team effort — involving the Ministries of Health and Children and Family Development, and nurses and communities and Health Authorities across this province,” she says.

The Children’s Health Policy Centre (CHPC) at Simon Fraser University is leading this scientific evaluation — with others from across BC and Canada. Collaborators include researchers at McMaster University, the University of BC, the University of Victoria and the Public Health Agency of Canada. (The BC Ministry of Health is funding the project, with support from the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development, as well as from regional Health Authorities.)

The CHPC study team is following each of the 739 families until they all finish a series of interviews. The team has conducted more than 2,500 research interviews with families to date. More than 600 babies have already been born to participating families, including eight sets of twins.

Scientific Director Catherine says that while scientific rigour is at the heart of this project, the CHPC study team has remained strongly committed to the human side of the undertaking. “Our commitment and our frequent contacts have led to some strong connections between the scientific field interviewers and the mothers,” she says. “We’re learning from new mothers and watching the children grow while we are conducting the research interviews.”

The CHPC study team is collecting and analyzing a wide array of child and maternal health information with a special focus on issues relating to child development, as well as mothers’ wellbeing. Young mothers say they enjoy being part of the project because they feel that their voices are being heard — often for the first time.

Following the closure of recruitment, research data collection and participant tracking will continue until all the children in the study reach two years of age. The team is also obtaining consent to remain in contact with all the families — to lay the foundation for longer-term child follow up over the preschool years and beyond.

Beyond evaluating how NFP works in BC, the BC Healthy Connections Project will also provide new information on young mothers who are coping with disadvantages such as living on low income, or struggling to find secure housing. This is a population that has often been underserved. So as a first step to help, the CHPC study team is aiming to provide initial reports by mid-2017. These reports will provide descriptive characteristics on study participants, including information on social determinants of health, as well as service access and use during pregnancy. The results on how well NFP works will follow once data collection closes.

According to BC’s longstanding intentions, regional Health Authorities will begin offering NFP to all eligible women — as a program embedded within other public health services — starting Dec. 17. The regional Health Authorities, together with the BC Ministry of Heath, are responsible for all aspects of planning and implementing the ongoing delivery of NFP as a provincial program from here.

Meanwhile, the BC Healthy Connections Project research team will continue collecting and analyzing data. When all 739 families have completed the study, in just over two-and-a-half-years from now, information on NFP’s effectiveness will be used to further improve BC’s child and maternal public health programs.

More information on the BC Healthy Connections Project is available here. More information on NFP open enrollment, is available here.