First Born Program Founder Vicki Johnson spent time in Los Alamos Wednesday working in the field with a Home Visitor and meeting board and community members.
Johnson and her husband Don are visiting First Born Programs around northern New Mexico. Johnson started the program in Silver City in 1997. When Johnson moved to Silver City from Michigan with husband Don, a pediatrician, Johnson, who is a family councilor, brought the seeds of First Born with her.
The Program’s mission is to increase the health and wellness of women pregnant for the first time, families parenting for the first time, and families adopting their first baby. FBP provides mothers, fathers and primary caregivers with education, support and service coordination. FBP is curriculum-based and relationship-centered. FBP was named one of the nation’s 10 most innovative and exemplary prevention programs in 2002 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention and several other collaborating national agencies.
First Born programs are located in 15 New Mexico counties – more than 67 percent of New Mexican first born babies are born in a county where there is a First Born Program. The largest program is in Albuquerque and employs more than 50 people. More than 1,400 families are served by First Born in New Mexico.
First Born is a unique home visiting program designed to meet the needs of first-time families. All services are free, voluntary and offered to all women pregnant for the first time and first-time families within the program service area regardless of economic or health status. Services may begin at any time during pregnancy or at the birth of the baby and may continue until the child is 36 months.
Through weekly home visits, families identify their personal goals and learn to build upon their strengths, recognize challenges and opportunities for growth, and establish healthy relationships whose effects will last a lifetime. At the core of the program is the conviction that a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby are not only critical to the immediate well-being of mother and child but are also basic to the long-term health and success of family and community.
Families learn about:
• Physical and emotional changes during pregnancy
• Expectations of childbirth
• Encouraging infant growth and development
• Nurturing positive relationships
• Creating safe and stimulating environments
• Selecting toys and books that teach
• Discovering community resources
• Working toward solutions for family challenges
• Opportunities for continuing education and on-going learning
The Silver City program first focused on pregnant teens. “We became aware that teens, when they become pregnant, drop out of school,” Johnson said. There were 12 teen moms in the first group and the outcomes were excellent, Johnson said.
The success brought recognition. “When a community has needs and you meet them, the community wraps its arms around you,” Johnson said.
Johnson developed the First Born curriculum to suit New Mexicans and other programs in the U.S. and elsewhere also tailor their programs for their communities, Johnson said.
At the core of the program are the home visitors who receive 6-8 weeks of training. “It’s the hardest and best job there is,” Johnson said. “When I visit a program, I always ask to go on a home visit. “It’s a priviledge to share those moments of wonder.”
First Born is currently the subject of an intense study by the Rand Corp., which will provide a wealth of scientific data about the outcomes of the program, Johnson said. Developing resilient children and confident, competent parents can have effects that extend far beyond a specific family. Johnson estimates that every dollar spent on her program saves $18 in emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and other costly services.
Public dollars fund 60 percent of the program, while 35 percent comes from grants and 5 percent from private donations. The LANL Foundation is a primary contributor.
“Each program is different,” Johnson said. “Some are based in hospitals or clinics. Others are based at non-profits or operate independently.”
Since services are available to anyone who wants them, participants are not stigmatized or labeled, Johnson said.
“First Born is a guard rail,” Johnson said. “Families don’t fall off the edge.”