In our ongoing series, What's Working, we look at innovations that are paying off. In Durham, North Carolina, all parents are offered a helping hand in the first few months of their children's lives through the Family Connects program, which has already sent registered nurses into the homes of 30,000 families. As CBS News' Dr. Tara Narula reports, it's paying off.
The first year of a child's life is crucial to the developing brain, but parental instincts are not always enough to take on the challenges of caring for a newborn. Sometimes, it takes a village to support, listen, and embrace the entire family.
Jenny Jensen, one of the nurses with Family Connects, is tracking pounds and inches along with the stress levels of parents. Before they leave the hospital, new parents like Zawadi and Damon walker are offered two free home check-ups.
"I think we both had the same fear about being left to our own devices with this whole new life," Damon said.
The first visit comes a few weeks after birth. In addition to organizing feeding and sleeping schedules, the nurses address safety conditions in the home, working with the pediatrician if there are health concerns. But some of their most meaningful advice covers work-life balance and personal relationships.
"She gave us tips, told us not to be afraid to reach out to our support … so that we can have some moments for ourselves," Zawadi said.
"It's a very personal thing to bring somebody into your home, into your life," nurse Jenny Jensen said. "Just aboutabout how best to care for that baby. We're able to provide evidence-based information for families that they can trust."
The nurses help parents find day care, government benefits, even the safest car seat for their baby. Between visits nurses stay in touch with their families by text and phone, fielding questions that may not surface at the doctor's office.
"Pediatricians are wonderful professionals, but they simply cannot have two hours to come into your home ... and that's what our nurses are able to do," said Duke University's Kenneth Dodge, who developed Family Connects. "Parents are very anxious. Maybe the system worked when mothers stayed at home full-time, but that's simply not happening very often today."
And the program is paying off. For every dollar spent, it's estimated $3 in health care costs are saved, and emergency visits among Family Connects babies were cut in half.
"Parenting is more positive and then in the long run, we found important outcomes such as lower child abuse rates and lower health care costs for emergency room visits for injuries and illnesses," Dodge said.
Even experienced parents are embracing the help. Three years ago, Meagan Dunphy-Daly gave birth to her daughter in Washington, D.C. After the birth of son Caden in Durham last May, Meagan thought she and her husband Jason still had a few things to learn from an expert.
"She watched me nurse him and provided advice on that," Dunphy-Daly said. "It was much easier than bundling everybody up and taking my older daughter to the doctor's with us. … If I could've had this with my daughter I would've been a much more confident first-time parent."
The program's impact is being felt nationwide. Sixteen communities have sent nurses to be trained in Durham and 14 more sites are being added soon.