Having a baby is one of the most profoundly impactful experiences of any parent or caregiver. With our society creeping in with visions of what pregnancy and post-partum life looks like for parents, caregivers and whole families, the reality of what this time can feel like looks different for every individual and family. From lack of sleep, to fewer social engagements with adults, to a new schedule bringing your life’s regularity to a screeching halt, being pregnant and having a baby brings an influx of the unknown for parents and caregivers alike. With this in mind, the Franklin and Grand Isle counties are exploring means of providing supports and services to families who are experiencing life after having a new baby. The Parent Child Center (PCC) of Northwestern Counseling and Support Services (NCSS) has introduced the HEART Program, ‘Helping Everyone Access Resources and Thrive’, to aid in the region’s efforts to provide wrap-around prenatal and postpartum services for moms, dads, caregivers and families in their homes.
What the Research Tells Us
According to the National Perinatal Association, 20-25% of women and their families report that Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) have had profound, adverse effects on their family’s overall wellness, with symptoms of a PMAD developing anywhere from pregnancy to 1 year after birth. “In fact, women are more likely to develop depression and anxiety during the first year after childbirth than at any other time in their life.” (NPA, 2018). Furthermore, research also shows us fathers, partners, and other non-gestational/non-biological parents are also affected by the stress of having a newborn, resulting in reports of depression and anxiety (Kim & Swain, 2007). To combat these statistics, experts recommend regular and routine screenings of mothers, fathers and other caregivers and consistent training/education of healthcare professionals.
Perinatal anxiety and mood disorders can have multiple effects on routines, relationship dynamics, and overall wellness of families. This we know: the relationship between a mother and her baby begins in utero, before baby is even born. The California Center for Infant-Family and Early Childhood Mental Health (2002-2004) says, “When maternal mental health is compromised by perinatal illness, the security of attachment that is so necessary for healthy cognitive, social, and psychological development is disrupted. Disruptions in the growing attachment between a mother and her baby can begin as early as conception and continue into the postpartum period with grave consequences, particularly for that infant’s mental health across the lifespan.” For the Franklin/Grand Isle Region, the HEART program is the first of its kind, offering a different skillset within prenatal and post-partum services available for families, offering a positive and healthy attachment lens to the work they do. The program aims to increase knowledge and awareness around perinatal mood disorders and mental health needs, as well as increase access to services for families, both prenatal and postpartum.
The HEART Mission
The HEART Program’s ambition to help families have a healthy start came to fruition in July, 2018 and evolved from the notion that parents, caregivers and families would benefit from having a lens into the mental health and well-being of new parents. The HEART Programs clinicians have a background in early childhood mental health and child development, bringing a unique scope of practice to families’ prenatal and postpartum care teams. All of the HEART Program clinicians are credentialed as Post-Partum Doulas through the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA) and have extensive experience supporting the overall development of children ages birth-8 years. Each HEART Clinician utilizes the Strengthening Families Protective Factors framework to support families in their homes, along with the growing evidence-informed model that has developed within the Parent Child Center, itself. Additional trainings/certifications within the HEART Program models include Parents as Teachers, Responsive Home Visiting, and Family Support. With the focus on the mental health and overall wellness of families, the HEART Program is able to support the individual needs of the parents and caregivers before and after they go home with a new baby.
HEART Clinicians offer universal home visiting services (free for everyone REGARDLESS of income) for any person living in the Franklin/Grand Isle region who is pregnant, has given birth, experienced a loss, and/or is caring for a newborn baby in any capacity. Whether this is your first baby or not, all new parents/caregivers are eligible to receive this service. Additionally, adoptive families and/or families who have experienced a loss are also offered supports and services through the HEART Program.
HEART clinicians provide post-partum doula visits to include supports around self-care, birth-recovery, light housework and meal prep, newborn/sibling care, some breastfeeding support, and referrals to nursing/lactation professionals available in the region. A post-partum plan can also be developed between the HEART clinician and family members, identifying action steps and plans for families throughout their daily lives. Furthermore, HEART Clinicians can provide opportunities for social connections in the home/community, as well as health/overall wellness coaching. HEART Clinicians also utilize developmental screenings and the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, offering a better picture of both the infant and the mother, leading to more informed families and parents/caregivers.
The HEART Program also has a Perinatal Mental Health Counselor, Jessica Dewes-LCMHC, available for moms, as well as mental health consultation for dads/other caregivers. If the family’s needs cannot be met directly through this specialized counseling model, Jessica provides referrals to outside counseling services as needed within the community. Jessica can be available to stay in the home and provide counseling supports until the baby reaches the age of 18mos-24mos. While discussing her role within the HEART Program, Jessica commented, “Mental health is seen from a broad perspective, so counseling can be available to meet the individual mental health needs of parents in the home. Mental health can’t be pigeon-holed; it’s a broad spectrum and every individual needs support to process a new baby. Life factors happen and I want to help families stay connected to their community.”
Currently, the HEART program has been serving families across the region since July, 2018 and the program is eager to make this number grow! The HEART program can help connect families to additional community-based support groups through the Parent Child Center, including WAVES, helping parents navigate the waves of parenthood; Baby 101, a monthly workshop to educate parents/caregivers on their child’s development and other parenting tips to support their baby’s first year; Babies and Brunch, an opportunity for families with children under the age of 1 to meet other families in the area, learn more about child development, and ask parenting questions in a comfortable environment; and Traces of Loss, a support group offering a safe space for parents/caregivers to express and connect around the loss of a child.
What’s Next for the Program
With on-going and consistent need for the HEART Program in the region, the program’s administration and clinicians are eager to expand. HEART is an unfunded project out of the Parent Child Center of NCSS and the region is hopeful to align with some of the Vermont’s state-wide initiatives in this domain, such as STAMMP (Screening, Treatment & Access for Mothers and Perinatal Partners). Gaining momentum and offering more training opportunities for practitioners around perinatal depression and related disorders is an exciting, necessary movement toward health and wellness for families.
While the program continues to evolve and develop, HEART continues to develop its individual practices to meet the needs of the community. Connecting with other community partners such as the Department for Children and Families, Franklin County Home Health Agency, Vermont Department of Health, and the Family Birthing Center at Northwestern Medical Center helps create a holistic, collective impact effort towards addressing the whole family before and after babies arrive. This regional effort to highlight the highs, normalize the lows and ensure that all babies, parents/caregivers, and families feel supported moves enthusiastically forward into community understanding, education and awareness of the unique needs of growing families. To learn more about the HEART program and other efforts in the Franklin/Grand Isle Region, please call Jess Graff or Sarah Badeau at 802-524-6554 and ask to be connected!
Barnes, D. L. (2002-2004). Perinatal depression effects on attachment and attunement. Retrieved from: http://cacenter-ecmh.org/wp/perinatal-depression-effects-on-attachment-and-attunement/
National Perinatal Association, (2018). NPA Position Statement 2018: Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved from: http://www.nationalperinatal.org/resources/Documents/Position%20Papers/2018%20Position%20Statement%20PMADs_NPA.pdf
Paulson, J.F., Bazmore, S.D. (2010). Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression. JAMA, 303(19), 1961-1969.