"The program, which was started in upstate New York in the 1970s and has been adopted in 42 states, is one of the rare public initiatives that have shown consistent and rigorously tested benefits for the mothers and children, as well as significant savings for taxpayers.
In different studies on different demographic groups, women in the program have had fewer premature deliveries, smoked less during pregnancy, spent less time on public assistance, waited longer to have subsequent children, had fewer arrests and convictions, and maintained longer contact with their baby's fathers. Their children have had fewer language delays and reported less abuse and neglect, slightly higher I.Q. scores, fewer arrests and convictions by age 19, and less depression and anxiety.
A 2011 study of New York City's Nurse-Family Partnership program, which currently has 91 nurses serving 1,940 families, projected that by the time a child in the program turns 12, the city, state and federal governments will have saved a combined $27,895, with additional savings thereafter — more than twice the program's cost per child. The study was conducted by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation using data from the Nurse-Family Partnership's research at three locations, then extrapolated to New York.
This fall, I attended a dozen home visits, all in the Bronx, with five nurses — three from the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, which contracts with the city to provide service in the Bronx, and two, including Ms. Schmidt, with the health department's Targeted Citywide Initiative, which tackles the most at-risk cases. The nurses' styles and backgrounds varied; the families' needs and challenges even more so. Each mother participated voluntarily and at no cost.
The problems were many: violence on the street, abuse in the women's past, illness, anger, obesity, insecure housing or financial circumstances. Most of the women had the poor luck to have been born in poverty. Like their middle-class counterparts, none came into the world knowing how to raise a baby."
Image: Young mother and baby, via Shutterstock