YAKIMA — “Baby snoring — is that normal?” Elizabeth McIntosh asked her registered nurse, Crystal Towne.
“It is perfectly OK,” Towne assured her.
The duo weighed McIntosh’s 2-month-old baby, Caroline: 13 pounds, precisely. She’s gained 1 pound, 12 1/2 ounces since Towne’s last visit three weeks ago.
The 22-year-old mom lifted Caroline from the scale they had set up in her kitchen and walked back into her living room, relaxing into her couch with baby in arms and her partner, Spencer Curtis, 22, beside her. Caroline’s been sleeping 6 or 7 hours a night, McIntosh told Towne.
“Because her weight is so good ... she can afford to sleep for a good chunk of time,” Towne told her.
For roughly six months, Towne has been making these regular visits to McIntosh’s home, where she has done basic health checkups while the new mom was expecting, and helped prepare McIntosh for what’s ahead. Now, she meets with Caroline as well to check in on progress in breastfeeding, tummy time and facial recognition and response, for example.
The visits are part of a program by Children’s Village called Nurse-Family Partnership, which connects registered nurses with 170 first-time moms in the Yakima Valley to help better equip them for motherhood. The goal is to ensure a healthy pregnancy and birth, improve the child’s health and development outcomes, and empower the mom and family to become economically self-sufficient.
The program is part of a statewide network of different home-visiting programs funded largely through the state Department of Children, Youth and Families.
They’re all working toward a shared goal of improving early childhood health and development to better prepare future students. Often, they’re geared toward at-risk communities: teen moms, low-income families, low-education families and recent immigrants.
Of the 23 counties and tribal nations statewide that DCYF provides with home visit funds, Yakima receives the most, accounting for 20 percent of the home visit positions, or 450 families. Catholic Charities Serving Central Washington, Children’s Village, Yakima Valley Farm Worker’s Clinic and West Valley School District all receive money.
Even more local home visits are funded independently, and most Yakima programs have a wait list. Catholic Charities has 25 moms waiting for openings.
“We live in a very high-needs community,” said Trissa Schiffner, the program manager of Catholic Charities’ Parents As Teachers home visiting program.
The poverty rate across Yakima County is over 20 percent — far surpassing the national average of 13 percent, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.
By the age of 3, children from low-income families hear 30,000 fewer words than their peers, according to ParentChild+, the home visit program followed by West Valley School District.
These home visit programs aim in part to bridge gaps like this that are indicators of future high school dropouts.
Children who finish the ParentChild+ program, for example, graduate from high school at a rate of 84 percent, according to the organization. That’s roughly the national average for all students in 2017, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Marilyn VanOostrum, the nurse supervisor for the Nurse-Family Partnership program at Children’s Village, facilitates a work group across the local home visiting programs. She documents each placement for home visits so that the group can easily keep track of where openings are and refer families.
For now, it’s analog. But some day she hopes to have an electronic system to make it more accessible across organizations.
The local programs have differing qualifying factors for families, such as the age of the child, stage of a mother’s pregnancy, income, education, recent immigration, or military status.
“Every early learning program in the Valley ... work(s) really well together and we all support each other to be successful, and really try to create a grid of support so that families aren’t slipping through,” said Schiffner of Catholic Charities.
Home visit programs are expected to incrementally expand statewide after lawmakers approved an additional $2.45 million for the programs in 2020-21.
For McIntosh and her baby, the support has been invaluable.
Towne’s advice has helped eliminate fear McIntosh felt when she first found out she was pregnant, she said. Before she met the RN, McIntosh said she knew nothing about infants. Now, she has a healthy young baby who is successfully breastfeeding and can already roll from tummy to back and stick out her tongue, mimicking her mom.
“It’s just really nice knowing I have people to go to if I need help,” she said of Towne. With her mind at ease about things like whether her baby should snore, she said she’s been able to better enjoy being Caroline’s mom.
“It’s been really nice just getting to experience all these new experiences, and seeing her develop and grow,” she said.