Researchers at Duke University have found that visits by a registered nurse to the homes of newborns as part of a comprehensive public health program can have significant, lasting positive effects.
The randomized clinical trial found that, five years after families completed Durham County, North Carolina’s Family Connects program, a universal newborn nurse home-visiting program, the children were 33% less likely than nonparticipants to have needed child emergency medical care use and 39% less likely to have been the subject of a child protective services investigation for suspected child abuse and neglect.
While previous studies had shown that such home visits were associated with improved parenting and a better home environment during the intervention period, the Duke study appears to be the first to document the effects up through the period when children enter school.
The results of the study, led by Benjamin Goodman of Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, were published July 7 in the journal of the American Medical Association JAMA Network Open.
Family Connects supports families with newborns by engaging them shortly after delivery and hooking them up with any community resources they might need. This engagement ends after one to three home visits. Every birth in Durham’s two county hospitals triggers eligibility for voluntary participation.
In a comment on the article in the journal, Dr. Richard Krugman with the University of Colorado School of Medicine and chair of the Board of the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect, said the study amounted to just one more bit of evidence that home visitation by nurses should be far more widespread.
“We now have more than three decades of solid data,” wrote Krugman, who was not affiliated with the Duke study. “So why are these programs not embedded in the U.S. health care system, and their cost not included in all forms of public and private health insurance?”
He added that these interventions protect kids and families from “devastating health, mental health and social effects and should be applied to our population the same way we immunize against measles, mumps, rubella and polio.”