Women who are pregnant with their first child can now receive regular visits from a nurse in the privacy of their own home through the Nurse Family Partnership program offered by Project Self-Sufficiency.  Low-income, first-time mothers are paired with a nurse who visits them throughout the pregnancy and up until the child’s second birthday.  The voluntary program, which was started in upstate New York in the 1970’s, has been adopted in 42 states, and was recently launched in Sussex, Warren and Hunterdon Counties.  The initiative is one of three different home visitation programs for young mothers which is provided by Project Self-Sufficiency to families in northwestern New Jersey.


The visiting nurses provide support, education and counseling on health, behavioral and self-sufficiency issues.  Program Coordinator, Claire Willetts, manages teams of certified home visitors and nurses for Project Self-Sufficiency.  “The Nurse Family Partnership program differs from our other home visitation services because the mother is introduced to the program while she is pregnant.  Our goal is to improve pregnancy outcomes, like achieving a healthy birth weight, assist with economic self-sufficiency and with early childhood development.  All of the home visitation programs offered by Project Self-Sufficiency are designed to empower mothers to be the best parents they can be.”

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Nurse Family Partnership (NFP) is one the most rigorously tested programs of its kind.  Randomized controlled trials conducted over the past 30 years demonstrate multi-generational outcomes for families and their communities.  Mothers and children who have participated in the program have consistently demonstrated significantly improved prenatal health, fewer subsequent pregnancies, increased maternal employment, improved child school readiness, reduced involvement in crime, and less child abuse, neglect and injuries.


“The visits leading up to the birth focus on preparing for labor and delivery, how to recognize labor and delivery, what is a danger sign or what needs to be reported immediately so that mother and child are in the safest possible spot,” explains Nurse Supervisor Darlene O’Connell, who oversees the team of nurses at Project Self-Sufficiency and is responsible for community outreach.  “When appropriate, we emphasize the importance of breast-feeding immediately.” 


A large part of each visit with the client is spent on counseling.  Registered nurse Debi Zingone regularly visits sixteen women who are either pregnant or new parents.  “Typically while the client is pregnant we go over pregnancy education based on the program guidelines and what the client wants to know,” explains Debi.  Visits last between 60 and 90 minutes.  “We focus on short-term and long-term goals.  The idea is to empower the client to set goals to better themselves over time in every area, including maternal health and well-being, child development, socially and in the workplace.”


In addition to parenting skills, individual goals for clients can be anything from smoking cessation to managing stress to obtaining an advanced degree.   Nurse Family Partnership client Tamara Evans recently gave birth to her first child, Mariah, and is working on a variety of issues with the help of her nurse Debi.  “The transition to motherhood scared me, but I’m learning a lot and continuing to learn every day.  Being a mother is like a full-time job, but it is very fulfilling.”  Debi visits with Tamara and Mariah twice a month, and Tamara appreciates the assistance she is receiving in all areas of her life.  “Even little problems that I have like personal issues, she will work her hardest to get me an answer.”


Some of the issues faced by the individual clients and their families extend beyond pregnancy and childbirth.  Many are dealing with intergenerational poverty, lack of education or other seemingly insurmountable issues.  “While they’re in the Nurse Family Partnership program, they’re being connected to other resources so as they get ready to graduate from NFP they can access the other services available in their community.  We channel the wealth of knowledge available in the community through Project Self-Sufficiency,” noted Darlene.


Project Self-Sufficiency was founded in 1986 with the goal of providing housing assistance to local low-income women. Since then the agency has grown to provide an array of services aimed primarily at low-income families.  Programs include career guidance, computer training, help with obtaining a GED, parenting skills classes, legal assistance and education, financial workshops, health education, childcare and family activities.  The agency offers help around the holidays, formal dresses during prom season, and assistance with emergency basic needs, such as food and clothing to its participants.  Most services are free and many are open to the public. 


Those who are interested in learning more about the Nurse-Family Partnership, or any of the other programs offered at Project Self-Sufficiency, are encouraged to call 973-940-3500, or visit www.projectselfsufficiency.org.