Community Health Worker
The CARE Plus program includes the use of a community health worker to build relationships with mothers and caregivers of babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome. These mothers and caregivers often experience a gap in care when making the transition to life with a new baby. It can be especially difficult for those recovering from opioid addiction to continue their recovery process while learning to take care of a newborn. The community health worker can help ease that transition by providing support for the mother and caregivers.
The community health worker’s goals include reducing behaviors that contribute to infant mortality, such as helping mothers or caregivers recover from drug addiction, quit smoking, take care of their mental health, learn safe sleep practices and more. They act as a coach and support system to encourage healthy behaviors and provide resources to mothers and caregivers recovering from opioid addiction who choose to participate in the CARE Plus program.
Nurses and social workers will tell a new mother about the CARE Plus program while she and her baby are still in the hospital and ask if she is interested in meeting with one of the community health workers. If she is, a community health worker will meet her in the hospital and help her learn to care for her baby.
When the mother and baby are ready to go home, the community health worker will then ask if the mother or other caregivers would like to continue meeting. The community health worker spends time in the community and is there to support the family and connect them to any resources they need—from getting a bus pass to finding fresh fruits and vegetables or health care providers.
Community health workers are not medical professionals; they are lay staff who often have similar socioeconomic backgrounds and life experiences, making it easier for them to connect and relate to mothers in the program. They are trained to identify and understand challenges these mothers are facing and to connect them with resources such as food, housing and transportation, and they provide information about topics such as safe sleep practices. Community health workers have added training as addiction recovery coaches.
A trained therapist also provides training in parenting techniques that help the mothers develop strong emotional bonds with their children and provide a sense of security. This includes teaching the importance of skin-to-skin contact, rooming in with an infant, cuddling the baby and soothing him or her. Research shows that enhancing the sense of attachment between the baby and mother can decrease the length of hospitalization for an infant. Children who feel secure also benefit throughout their lives by having greater self-esteem, school readiness, and ability to manage their emotions.
The Mobile Health, or M Health, platform is an SMS messaging system to help send health tips or resources directly to a caregiver’s cell phone. Mothers, fathers and other caregivers in the baby’s life can all sign up, if they choose. The messages will be catered to their specific situation and timeline of pregnancy and the first year of a baby’s life. Patients can also download the We Care app to find zip code specific resources, like where to find clothing or food. The free app is available for anyone to download on a mobile device.
Access to Care
CARE Plus aspires to bring services and support to women, rather than require women to travel to receive assistance. A significant part of the program relies on well-trained community health workers who will make personal visits and have frequent communication with the mothers. These community health workers meet mothers in convenient locations – whether at their home, a nearby laundromat, or other familiar location in their own community.