The Day – Alliance for Family Support visits homes in need of a helping hand
The stories are as unique as each family. A couple with a one-month-old baby lacks confidence and resources. A Chinese family facing a language barrier also needs children’s clothes, a crib and a car seat. They came to this country so that the father could complete his doctorate at the University of Connecticut.
Another dad in his 50s is learning to connect with his new baby. The last time he was a new father 28 years ago, he was in the armed forces and missed that bonding moment. (See his story: youtube/Kv8Eh9KGaGQ.)
Then there’s the mother who suffers from postpartum depression and just needs to feel connected to her community.
These families/caregivers (who may be birth parents, grandparents or foster parents) and many others with children under 5 have one thing in common: they have all contacted the Alliance for Family Support, which serves New London County, Windham County and parts of Middlesex County.
The alliance was formed in 2021 with a $2,451,226 grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to streamline services with a regional approach and a phone number to call for help: (860) 425- 6549. The TVCCA (Thames Valley Council for Community Action), which serves as the co-ordinated intake office, “is responsible for supporting early years home visiting programs in hospitals and agencies”, said the director of support for the Alliance, Jennifer Johnson, in an email.
Programs and organizations involved include Madonna Place, Home Visiting; Day Kimball Healthcare, Feeding Families; Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, Feeding Families; Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) of Southeastern Connecticut, Nurse-Family Partnership of Eastern Connecticut; and TVCCA, Early Head Start.
Additionally, the Alliance and the Eastern Region of Hartford HealthCare (Backus and Windham Hospitals) “are now working together to make it easier for prenatal and birthing families in New London and Windham counties to access visits at home,” Johnson said.
When the alliance receives a referral, it says it “tries to meet all immediate needs. We then help the family achieve their goals by focusing on promoting a healthy mother, pregnancy and child, child development” and developing “a support system community for the family” to promote school readiness. “All of this is accomplished through visitation (in-home, in the community, or virtually), group gatherings such as playgroups or parent groups (and) phone support and mail support (in some cases ).”
Johnson added: “Some of our services are aimed at low-income families and others do not have this limitation. One of our Alliance values is that doctors and other professionals don’t have to sift through qualifications to find the right program. If a family needs support, they can send us a referral and we can find the best solution.
The Norwich Times learned more about the Alliance during a Zoom meeting in January.
“Parenting is difficult and every parent can use support. People who come to our program come from all walks of life,” said Laura Cotto, clinical supervisor of Nurturing Families at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.
Program for all
Sometimes they are first-time parents and ‘a little nervous’ because they have ‘no experience with babies, while other families live in poverty or just moved here and don’t know anyone’ , she said. . “This program is really for everyone. I was a young parent myself and would have absolutely qualified for this program and I think it would have been very helpful to me. I think every parent could benefit from parental support. It’s a tough journey and it’s best to have support and connect with others who are going through this.
Even though babies aren’t born with instruction manuals, the Alliance for Family Support has the next best thing, a kind of live-action version of Heidi Murkoff’s book, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” a said Wendy Yagarich, clinical supervisor at Madonna. Place in Norwich.
“It is extremely important that when we start working with a family that we assess” and meet their basic needs first (including housing, heat, food and formula), “because we know that if those needs are not taken care of, it becomes extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, for the family to then engage in the work of parent-child interaction, which we are here to do with them,” Chris Millette, clinical supervisor of Day Kimball Healthcare’s Nurturing Families home-visiting program, said. Millette added that children “are like the thermometer. Based on their behaviors and a lot of things, they sometimes tell us what parents are not able to tell us for some reason.
“Affordable and available housing and the lack thereof,” is a major stressor, Yagarich said.
The biggest stressor for many mothers is finances and maintaining jobs, added Christina Gralton, visiting nurse with the Eastern Connecticut Nurse-Family Partnership and the Southeast Visiting Nurse Association (VNA). from Connecticut.
For example, a mother who had COVID during the last vacation was unable to get tested. “And she almost lost her job because she was accused of being absent, because it was the holidays.”
More diverse community
Southeast Connecticut is also becoming much more diverse, said Deborah Buxton-Morris, RN supervisor, Nurse-Family Partnership of Eastern Connecticut, VNA of Southeastern Connecticut. “We have many, many languages that are represented here. And even if we use the services of an interpreter, it is always a challenge to know if what we are trying to convey is really understood.
Millette agreed, adding that they used “LanguageLine” even when working with an interpreter. Reflecting on when she visits mothers who only speak Haitian Creole, she said, “It’s hard to express what you’re talking about” while wearing a mask and also hard “to get written information.” for families in their own language. Spanish is much easier, of course, but we struggle with Haitian Creole.
Although it is a home-visiting scheme, Millette said she “literally and figuratively” meets caregivers where they are – including bus stops, the New London drop-in centre, the homeless shelter, doctor’s appointments and virtually.
Cotto said, “Sometimes there is this stigma around home visits and we really try to break that down,” because so many different types of parents access these services.
“When we do house calls, we don’t come looking for trouble or catching people doing things wrong or anything like that. We’re here to support and assist them and help them connect to whatever they need.
Buxton-Morris said: “It’s not our role to judge. It is our role to help make them (parents/guardians) the best people they can be. So I think they accept us very well.
Millette said it’s a “tremendous” help to have male workers in the program because they have a perspective they can share with the men they work with.
Primarily, they focus on the father of the family, she said, who could be a single father, a father and a mother and “sometimes it’s a couple who may not be together, but the father continues to want to be involved with his children or his child. And these are the types of fathers that are referred to us.
“My role is to help fathers, and sometimes mothers if they attend the visit, to understand their child’s development and to help them with attachment,” said John O’Neil, home visitor for the Day Kimball Healthcare’s Nurturing Families program, in an email. “I can also help contact other agencies if the family needs items like diapers, cribs, high chairs, etc. I also facilitate Circle of Security trainings for parents in group settings. Circle of Security helps with parent/child interactions and attachment.
O’Neil added: ‘Some goals for families might be to save money or get a driver’s license. Some goals for children might be to get into crawling/crawling position or to work on communication and motor skills.
“When a parent knows what to expect and how their child’s development works, they feel less stressed and can prepare to handle even the most difficult parenting tasks,” said Ilia Chavez, home visitor for the program. Nurturing Families of Lawrence & Memorial Hospital. “Knowing that they can count on us for support whenever difficulties arise brings a level of security and confidence that reduces stressors for the family. Rather than focusing on a timeline, we meet the family where they are based on their situation and provide support to help them achieve their goals. Whether it’s a micro goal or a big goal, every goal has meaningful value to us and we celebrate every milestone, no matter how big or tall people are.
For more information about Alliance for Family Support, call (860) 425-6549 or go online at tvcca.org.
Long-time Norwich resident Jan Tormay now lives in Westerly.