Alliance for Family Support visits homes needing a hand – theday.com

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Published March 30. 2022 9:30AM 

The stories are as unique as each family. A couple with a month-old baby is low on confidence and resources. A Chinese family with a language barrier is also in need of children’s clothing, a crib and car seat. They came to this country so the father could finish his doctorate degree at the University of Connecticut.
Another father in his 50s learns how to connect with his new baby. The last time he was a new father 28 years ago, he was in the armed services and missed that bonding time. (View his story: youtube/Kv8Eh9KGaGQ.)
Then there is the mother who is dealing with postpartum depression who just needs to feel connected to her community.
These families/caregivers (which can be biological parents, grandparents or foster parents) and many others with children ranging from prenatal to 5 years of age have one thing in common: They have all reached out to 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 one phone number to call for help: (860) 425-6549. TVCCA (Thames Valley Council for Community Action), which serves as the coordinated intake office, “is tasked with supporting the Early Childhood Home Visiting programs within the hospitals and agencies,” Alliance Support Director Jennifer Johnson said in an email.
The programs and organizations involved include Madonna Place, Home Visiting; Day Kimball Healthcare, Nurturing Families; Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, Nurturing Families; Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) of Southeastern Connecticut, Nurse-Family Partnership of Eastern Connecticut; and TVCCA, Early Head Start.
Additionally, the Alliance and Hartford HealthCare Eastern Region (Backus and Windham Hospitals) are now “working together so that prenatal and birthing families in New London and Windham Counties can more easily access home visiting,” Johnson said.
When the alliance receives a referral, she said they “try to take care of any immediate needs. We then support the family in working toward their goals with our focus on promoting a healthy mom, pregnancy and child, child development,” and developing “a community support system for the family” to promote school readiness. “This is all accomplished through visits (in home, in the community or virtually), group gatherings such as play groups or parent groups (and) phone support and mail support (in some instances).”
Johnson added, “Some of our services are targeted to low income families and others don’t have that limitation. One of the values of our Alliance is that physicians and other professionals don’t have to sort through qualifications to find the right program. If a family needs support they can send a referral to us and we can find the best fit.”
The Norwich Times learned more about the Alliance during a January Zoom meeting.
“Parenting is hard, and every parent can use support. The people in our program come from every walk of life,” said Laura Cotto, Clinical Supervisor of Nurturing Families at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.
Program for everyone
Sometimes they’re first-time parents and “a little bit nervous” because they don’t “have any experience with babies, while other families are living in poverty or they’ve just moved here and don’t know anyone, she said. “This program is really for everyone. I was a young parent myself, and I would have absolutely qualified for this program and I think it would have been really helpful for me. I think every parent could use parenting support. It’s a difficult journey and it’s better to have support and connect with other people who are going through it.”
Even though babies are not born with instruction manuals, the Alliance for Family Support offers the next best thing, sort of a live version of Heidi Murkoff’s book, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” said Wendy Yagarich, clinical supervisor at Madonna Place in Norwich.
“It’s critically important that when we begin working with a family that we assess” and meet their basic needs (including housing, heat, food and formula) first, “because what we know is, if those needs are not taken care of, it becomes extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, for the family to then engage in the parent-and-child-interaction work, that we’re there 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 lots of things, they tell us sometimes what the parents are not able to tell us for whatever reason.”
“Affordable, available housing and lack thereof,” is a major stressor, Yagarich said.
The biggest stressor for many mothers is financial and keeping jobs, added Christina Gralton, Visiting Nurse with the Nurse-Family Partnership of Eastern Connecticut and Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) of Southeastern Connecticut.
For instance, one mother who had COVID over the recent holidays was not able to get a test. “And she almost lost her job because she was accused of taking time off, because it was the holidays.”
More diverse community
Southeastern Connecticut is also becoming much more diverse, said Deborah Buxton-Morris, R.N. Supervisor, Nurse-Family Partnership of Eastern Connecticut, VNA of Southeastern Connecticut. “We have many, many languages that are represented here. And although we use interpreter services, it’s still very much a challenge as to whether or not what we are trying to convey is actually understood.”
Millette agreed, adding that they use “LanguageLine” even when they are working with an interpreter. Reflecting on when she visits mothers who speaks only Haitian Creole, she said, “It’s hard to express what you’re talking about” while wearing a mask and also difficult to “to get written information for families in their own language. Spanish is much easier, of course, but we’re having kind of a hard time with Haitian Creole.”
While this is a home visiting program, Millette said she “literally and figuratively” meets caregivers where they are – including bus stops, the hospitality center in New London, the homeless shelter, doctors’ appointments and virtually.
Cotto said, “Sometimes there’s this stigma attached to home visiting and we’re really trying to break through that” because a lot of different types of parents access these services.
“When we’re doing home visiting, we’re not coming to look for problems or catch people doing things wrong or anything like that. We’re there to provide support and assistance and help them connect to whatever they need.”
Buxton-Morris said, “It’s not our role to judge. It’s our role to help make them (parents/caregivers) the best persons that they can be. So I think that they we are very accepting.”
Millette said it is a “tremendous” help having male workers in the program, because they have a perspective that they are able to share with the men that they work with.
Single dad
Primarily, they focus on the father in the family, she said, which could be a single dad, a dad and a mom and “sometimes it’s a couple that might not be together, but the dad continues to want to have involvement with his children or his child. And those are the types of dads that get referred over to us.”
“My role is to help assist fathers, and sometimes mothers if they attend the visit, in understanding their child’s development and help them with attachment,” said John O’Neil, home visitor for Day Kimball Healthcare’s Nurturing Families Program, in an email. “I can also assist in reaching out to other agencies should the family need 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 could be saving money or getting a driver’s license. Some goals for children could be getting to a crawling position/crawling or working on communication and motor skills.”
“When a parent knows what to expect and how their child’s development works, the parent feels less stressed and can prepare to handle even the most challenging tasks about parenting,” said Ilia Chavez, home visitor with Lawrence & Memorial Hospital’s Nurturing Families Program. “Knowing that they can rely on us as a support whenever challenges 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 circumstances and provide supports to help them accomplish their goals. Whether it is a micro goal or a big goal, each goal has a significant value to us and we celebrate every single milestone regardless of how big or small people may think (it) may be.”
For more information about Alliance for Family Support, call (860) 425-6549 or go online to tvcca.org.
Jan Tormay, a longtime Norwich resident, now lives in Westerly.
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