During Shanna Scofield's home visit, the atmosphere is friendly and comfortable.
The way Mandy Dahlseng asks Scofield about her weekend and rejoices with her over Scofield's 13-month-old son sleeping through the night may lead one to believe Dahlseng is an old friend.
Though she is a friend, Dahlseng is also Scofield's free home nurse—and has been for more than a year.
Dahlseng has been visiting Scofield and her son, Lincoln, free of charge at their Alexandria home since Scofield's first trimester of pregnancy.
"I would be lost without Mandy and this program," Scofield said. "I love having her here. ... It's come to be like Mandy is just part of the family."
In these visits, Dahlseng informs Scofield of what to expect with Lincoln's current stage of development and important steps for his continued wellness in the future. For more than the past year, Dahlseng also has been Scofield's cheerleader, encouraging her to meet her own goals and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Most of all, Dahlseng has been there for Scofield's questions, fears and frustrations that come along with being a new parent, helping her become the most confident parent she can be.
Free home visits such as these between Scofield and Dahlseng are among several in the area, all of which are made possible by Supporting Hands Nurse-Family Partnership. Nurse-Family Partnership is an organization serving counties across Minnesota and throughout the United States that works to promote healthy babies and self-sufficient families by providing visits and other local resources to low-income, first-time parents.
"There's usually a lot of questions that new moms have, so we're there to help guide them through the process of this journey that they're on," explained Lacey Severson, a nurse supervisor with Supporting Hands Nurse-Family Partnership. "We also want to help them in achieving their life goals - whether it be to go to or return to school, to find a job, find housing or space out future pregnancies. We kind of have a holistic approach. We like to talk more about not just the pregnancy and nursing stuff."
The organization began nearly 40 years ago, after a doctor in Denver brainstormed the concept with a few public health directors and a whole lot of research. The research behind Nurse-Family Partnership is based upon randomized, controlled studies on the relationship between home visits and family success.
Since its introduction, the program has resulted in less parent drug and alcohol abuse, better parent employment and greater academic performance in children. All families involved "graduate" the program as more informed parents, explained Severson.
Support Hands brought the program to Douglas County in 2008.
"The foundation of our program is that family relationship," said Severson. "That nurse is a compassionate, caring professional. They can add the nursing expertise, but also support them in any areas of their life. Nurses are often seen as that non-judgmental and trustworthy type of professional. They create a connection with the moms."
Severson said there are three main funding sources for the program: Participating county contributions, grants, and health plan reimbursements.
The qualifications to partake in the Nurse-Family Program are few.
Interested women must be first-time moms and meet the same income requirements needed to take part in Women, Infants, and Children Food and Nutrition Service or other various medical assistance programs.
Secondly, they must reach out to the program before their 28th week of pregnancy and live within a county where the program is offered. Supporting Hands Nurse-Family Partnership serves 20 counties in western and southwestern Minnesota. Similar programs are offered in other places in west-central Minnesota, including Otter Tail and Todd counties.
After the boxes are checked, a nurse serving Nurse-Family Partnership contacts the mother-to-be personally, and the mom and nurse come up with a personalized schedule of visits for the next two-plus years, as Scofield and Dahlseng did.
"When she comes, it's a lot of fun because it's like having a friend over," Scofield said of Dahlseng. "She has helped us a lot. She is making us stronger and more informed parents than we were otherwise—and that's huge for us."
Supporting Hands Nurse Family Partnership
Anyone with interest in the Nurse-Family Partnership program is invited to call or text 320-287-2585 or visit www.shnfp.org for more information.