Ridgefield’s Nurse Family Partnership program builds lasting connections with mothers

RIDGEFIELD — For new mom Marcia Valdes, of Danbury, a local program for first-time mothers and their babies has provided an invaluable support system.

The Nurse Family Partnership program has been around for about 40 years — starting in Colorado and arriving in Connecticut two years ago.

“I love it,” Valdes said of the program. “It’s great because as a first-time mom, you have a lot of questions. You’re always concerned ... things change because your life’s changed.”

RVNA Health enrolled its first client for the program in March 2020, just a week before the pandemic closed everything.

After offering virtual visits during COVID-19, the program has returned to doing home visits but continues to offer virtual visits as an option.

Jennifer Taborda, a registered nurse with RVNA Health, said the program, funded by the state’s Office of Early Childhood, is free and voluntary for families.

The program enrolls women at up to 29 weeks of pregnancy and the nurses stay with the families until their baby is 2 years old.

Throughout the program, Taborda said the nurses build long-term relationships with the mothers and watch the babies grow. Once the babies are 2 years old, she said they have graduation ceremonies for the babies.

During their involvement with the program, families are provided with education, support and connections to resources for services like housing, food and counseling.

Taborda said the program’s nurses conduct health, growth and development screenings for the babies and provide education and resources for children, including early intervention for children that are behind in their development.

“I would say as a first-time mom, having a free program like this is huge,” Taborda said. “Having support, having education — especially for some of our moms, who don’t understand what’s happening to their body during pregnancy.”

Taborda said the mothers are educated on what to expect during labor and the risks that could occur. A lot of the time, she said, the mothers don’t have the understanding of what’s going on with their bodies; there are some mothers that didn’t have parents that engaged and played with them. Understanding that it’s okay to get down on the floor and play with one’s child, Taborda said, is educational for both the mothers and their children.

Taborda said the programhas helped mothers get their college applications started and set goals for themselves. She said the program strives to set up its families for lifelong success — both for the families and the children — and to make sure they understand the importance of health visits for their children and self care for themselves.

RVNA Health Director of Community Health and Wellness and Nurse Family Partnership Program Administrator Laura Shulman Cordeira said first-time mothers benefit from the program, in that they’re less likely to have behavioral or intellectual problems at age 6.

Other benefits are mothers are more likely to initiate breastfeeding; attend their prenatal and postpartum appointments; bring their children to their pediatric appointments during their first year of life; set goals for themselves and become more self-sufficient economically.

Through the program, children are less likely to be in the hospital during their first two years of life as a result of an accidental injury; they’re also more likely to hit developmental milestones.

Additionally, she said the children involved in the program are less likely to be in any sort of juvenile detention system.

“I mean, it’s really incredible how long-lasting these results can be,” Cordeira said.

Though she’s been a nurse for nine years, Taborda said her work with the Nurse Family Partnership program is “the first job I feel very connected with and definitely get a sense of fulfillment.”

As a member of a “small, but mighty” team of nurses with the Nurse Family Partnership program, Taborda is a personal nurse for first-time mothers in Region 5 of Connecticut, which includes the Northwest Corner, Waterbury, Danbury, New Milford, New Hartford and Torrington.

Out of the 37 families enrolled in the Nurse Family Partnership program, Taborda works with 21 clients — one of whom is Valdes and her 9-month-old son, Anthony.

Valdes was 17 weeks pregnant when she was advised to call the Nurse Family Partnership program. She said she texted Taborda, who texted back to explain how the program works. They set up a FaceTime call to see how things might work and their relationship grew from there.

During her pregnancy, Valdes said she was concerned about her weight, so Taborda gave her a book to help with her nutrition. Now, every other week, Taborda comes to Valdes’ house to visit her and baby Anthony — sometimes bringing formula, diapers, wipes, creams, toys and books and sitting down to play with Anthony while she and Valdes talk.

Among some of her own questions, Valdes said she was concerned when Anthony was between 4 months and 6 months and hadn’t yet rolled over. She was also concerned about his sleep because Anthony “was never a good sleeper.”

Opening up about her experiences as a first-time mother, Valdes said her favorite moment is nursing: “It’s challenging, but it’s the moment you have your baby and he needs you and that moment is just the both of you and it’s amazing.”

Reflecting on how she’d encourage others to enroll in the program, Taborda said, “I was a teen mother myself. If I had this program, it would’ve changed my life. There’s so much to learn. The support is just fantastic. ... When our moms leave our program, they’re able to advocate for themselves and they’re going to be okay.”

CORRECTION: This story was corrected to clarify that the Ridgefield Visiting Nurse Association adopted the Nurse Family Partnership program, which has been around for about 40 years — starting in Colorado and arriving in Connecticut two years ago