Parenting Partnership helps babies and families thrive after leaving the NICU
By Kortney Scroger
Each year, more than 650 vulnerable infants leave MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to begin their lives at home. This transition can be challenging and scary.
Some NICU families spend months in the hospital after the birth of their medically fragile infant. During those months, they are constantly surrounded by caregivers and medical monitors, where help is just a step or phone call away. While graduation from the NICU is a momentous occasion, it can also be distressing to transition to life at home alone with a fragile baby.
For Katherine Goodsel, she felt like she was living in constant survival mode when her son, Iyah, left the Tacoma General NICU two years ago.
“That first year and a half was about keeping Iyah alive. He was attached to us 24 hours a day. He was strapped to my husband and I constantly,” she says.
Mya Gibson, mother of twins, Kamilla and Kiara, had a similar experience.
“It was one of the scariest times of my life,” she recalls. “I would watch my daughter all night to make sure she was still breathing.”
Nothing can prepare families for the emotional, financial and social stressors that follow a stay in the NICU, not to mention, the responsibility of caring for a medically fragile child. These families face significant issues like grief, loss and overwhelming stress related to their baby’s dependence and medical needs.
As a result, Mary Bridge Children’s created the Parenting Partnership program, funded by generous community contributions. Parenting Partnership helps families like the Goodsels and the Gibsons manage the ups and downs of the first three years of life after they leave the NICU. It strengthens attachment and bonding between new moms and their babies and promotes sensitive care-giving. The program works with a variety of community partners, Mary Bridge clinics and providers to ensure that families receive the emotional and medical support they need.
“We walk alongside parents to help them navigate the complexity of their medical appointments and procedures ensuring their engagement and understanding of their baby’s health care needs,” Social Worker Meschell Miloscia says.
This support begins the minute families leave the hospital. Once a family is discharged, a Parenting Partnership social worker contacts them.
“Within a few days, we set a follow-up appointment with a nurse from the NICU to visit the home and check on medical concerns like weight gain and proper use of equipment. The nurse joins us for two visits. After that, it’s just the mom and I,” Social Worker Susan-Lynn Walters says.
For the next three years, families work with an assigned social worker, like Susan-Lynn, that meets with them monthly. The support can take different forms depending on the needs of the family.
“We wear many different hats when we’re with families. We’re there for the baby, checking in on mom and her mental health. We can come with them to doctor appointments. Sometimes, we’re just lending an ear,” Social Worker MaryAnn Fortunato says.
Katherine recalls how impactful it was to have someone to talk to after her son’s stay in the NICU.
“I remember one of the first times Susan came over. She took Iyah from me, who was very fragile at the time, and asked me if I needed anything. I remember thinking ‘Oh, someone gets it!’ It was a very powerful moment for me.”
“When you have a child born with an unexpected medical issue, there is a mix of joy and grief. When you have expectations for a healthy child, it’s a life-altering event,” Katherine says. “Having people help me navigate a difficult medical system, provide support for bonding with my child, and encouraging me to be the best parent I can be, I couldn’t ask for more.”
Along with home visits, participating families can also attend support groups that are offered twice a month.
“The basis of the groups is to decrease social isolation and allow for community experiences in safe surroundings. Parents come because they are being supported. The support group process allows for connection that can normalize their experience and I don’t think they get that anywhere else in their lives,” Social Worker Deanna Cristel says.
This extra support is critical to proper development and happier, healthier outcomes.
“The most rewarding part of the work is seeing the parents navigating their child’s health care. Kids are connected to services and they are developing the best they can. I just love to see down the road and remember where they were in the beginning and the progress they’ve made to this point,” Mary Bridge Children’s Community Services Supervisor Heather Neal says.
Not only is the progress with these families seen by social workers and providers, the results are measurable. Using a standard measuring system where parent and child interactions are filmed and scored, 97% of Parenting Partnership participants in 2017 demonstrated sensitivity to their infant’s cues, which is a hallmark of positive parent-child attachment.
“We are contributing to healthier families in the community in so many ways. We are strengthening and reducing risk, helping the whole family,” Deanna says.
For parents, the support for their children and for themselves is priceless.
Mya wants Parenting Partnership donors to know that, “This program has value. You get parents that can take care of their children, who can be good to their children. You are investing in a life.”
Thanks to donor contributions, 1,083 home visits were provided to fragile infants and their families in 2018.
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