Program offering support to new parents expands

Parents of newborns in Durham can count on some help this year.

Since July 2008, Durham Connects has visited 1,713 families to ensure newborn well-being in half of Durham County. Now, just two years after its initial phase of visits, the organization has expanded to cover all of the county—providing essential services to thousands of families.

“The goal of Durham Connects is to visit every Durham parent who has had a baby,” said Jeannine Sato, the program’s director of the office of community resources. “Hospitals discharge new parents only days after a birth so the medical practitioners do not have much time to answer many questions.”

In 2004, Kenneth Dodge, director of the Center for Child and Family Policy, formed Durham Connects after recognizing the efforts of three organizations in the county. In collaborating with the Durham County Health Department, the Durham Family Initiative and the Network of Care, he created Durham Connects to improve and expand the existing home-visit models for child welfare.

Dodge said that creating Durham Connects has been a goal of the Center for Child and Family Policy since 2000. At the time, Durham had the highest incident rate of child abuse and neglect in the state, and North Carolina had a higher rate of child abuse than in the United States as a whole, he said.

When Dodge was approached by the Duke Endowment, the benefactor of the Durham Family Initiative, he created a team to discover ways to decrease abuse in the county.

“The Duke Endowment came to me in 2000 stating it knew of the early child abuse in [Durham] and wondered if I would be interested in researching the problem and finding a solution,” Dodge said.

When Durham Connects made its first home visits in 2008, the organization only visited families with children born on even-numbered days of the year to test the program’s effects against the efforts of other groups, Dodge and Sato said.

Durham Connects begins helping a family after representatives from the Center for Child and Family Policy contact parents with newborns in Durham, Dodge said. Nurses from the Durham County Health Department then visit the family and provide resources for the overall well-being of the home. When the child reaches a certain age, he said the child starts participating in the East Durham Children’s Initiative, a program that collaborates with Durham Connects to provide adequate services for children until age 21.

Although it has already experienced tremendous growth, the organization hopes to reach families in neighboring counties in the future.

“At this time, we don’t have an efficient way to include infants born in Orange and Wake counties, but we hope to one day cover the entire [Research Triangle area],” Sato added.

Dodge and Sato said the Center is conducting research to determine the effectiveness of the program in reducing the incidents of child abuse and neglect in the Durham area by studying North Carolina statistics, hospital emergency room and admittance records and anonymous surveys from families and professionals.

“Eighty-six percent of families invited have chosen to participate.” Dodge admitted. “Hopefully that is a sign that the Durham community sees Durham Connects as having a beneficial impact.


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