Moms Get Free Help from Visiting Nurses Under New ‘Illinois Family Connects’ Program
Bringing home a new baby is one of life’s most exciting moments—but it’s also a major transition that often brings stress and an exhausting, around-the-clock workload.
Taking care of a fragile new life truly takes the help of a community, and a unique, free program that connects moms with nurses now seeks to help share the load.
The program is called Illinois Family Connects, and it offers free, universal support from nurses who provide home visits. Modeled after Durham Connects, which launched in Durham, N.C. in 2008, Illinois Family Connects helps ease the uncertainty and sleepless nights many parents endure when first bringing a baby home, like breastfeeding, postpartum depression and sleep schedules.
First Lady Diana Rauner, a child development expert and advocate, said she instantly recognized the value a program such as Family Connects could have in Illinois.
“As a mom, I know welcoming a new baby into your family is such a joyous thing, but I also know it comes with a new set of challenges,” Rauner said.
So far, it’s a concept that has proven to significantly reduce the number of child protective investigations and emergency medical care for babies under a year in states where the program has been in place for years. In Durham, the number of emergency medical visits for newborns dropped by half, while child protective service investigations saw a 39 percent drop.
Now, thanks to a $650,000 grant, Illinois Family Connects pilot programs are up and running in two Illinois counties: one in Peoria County, and one in Stephenson County.
Here’s how it works: Families are given the option to participate while at their local hospital. Within the first three weeks of birth, a nurse from Illinois Family Connects is sent to the family’s home to provide essential support to both mother and baby, including guidance on health and medical questions or concerns, information on community resources, emotional support and resources for childcare options.
The support provided by the nurses helps empower both the mother and her newborn to ensure physical, mental, emotional and medical well-being during at time of great flux, filled with exciting and critical milestones as the baby rapidly develops.
Julia Jakubowski recently told The Peoria Journal Star that although she’d taken prenatal classes, she still had questions once her baby arrived. When Illinois Family Connects sent two nurses to aid the new parent, Jakubowski said it was a big help, providing immediate information as opposed to waiting weeks in between doctor visits. However, because those sent to assist parents are nurses and not social workers, much of the medical services provided through the program, such as measuring weight and length and listening to the heart and lungs, is the same as what would be performed during a doctor’s visit.
“It was just nice to have someone come to my home,” Jakubowski told the PJ Star. “She was seven pounds, three ounces … I was scared when she was born because she was so small—and skinny, too.”
In Peoria, each county resident who delivers a baby at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center is entitled to a home visit from a nurse, and 80 percent of families have taken advantage of the resource, according to the hospital. Stephenson County has seen hundreds of referrals to the program, as well, with many seeking help and information on a range of issues, including housing, financial assistance, clothing and food, the PJ Star reported. It can also be as simple as helping to identify and recognize depression or mental health struggles in new moms.
These early interventions during a child’s infancy can have lasting, positive effects on its future trajectory, and the goal, the first lady said, was to equip each county throughout the state with its own local chapter of the Illinois Family Connects program.
Because the program hinges on prevention, it also provides other benefits for the state, particularly in emergency health care cost savings. Durham’s local chapter reported that each dollar invested in the program saw a three dollar return in health care costs — a reward the first lady would like to see Illinois reap, as well.
“This is an absolutely invaluable program that is here to support the many hard-working moms across Illinois,” Rauner said. “As more counties plug-in to Illinois Family Connects, we’ll see women and families throughout the state strengthened with the support they need to help their children thrive.”