Support program helps new parents cope
By Holly Birchfield, 78 ABW/PA
/ Published June 01, 2007
Robins AFB, Ga. -- Becoming a new parent can be overwhelming at times. But Robins has a program to guide active-duty families towards rearing their children in a positive way.
The New Parent Support Program, which has been available to active-duty military families here for nearly 10 years, offers parents of infants through 3-year-olds in-home visits from nurses and social workers to provide valuable tools for discipline and other measures for handling the challenges of parenting.
Mary Hodgkins, family advocacy officer in the Family Advocacy Program under the 78th Medical Group's Behavioral Health Flight, said the in-home visits provide parents guidance in some of the most challenging areas of parenthood.
"New Parent Support Program is a home visit program and that makes it very convenient for families with young children," she said. "They can relax in their own home and also get the benefit of services from a bachelor degree level nurse or social worker. Their services can involve developmental screenings for young children so that the parents know what to expect in terms of the child's development and it can help prepare the child, prepare themselves and prepare their home in terms of health and safety issues."
Mrs. Hodgkins said each family enrolled in the program will receive at least two in-home visits each month.
Patricia Prime, a family advocacy nurse in the program since Jan. 8, said she gives parents the skills to take the best care of their babies.
"I do a lot of education," she said. "I educate parents about just basic infant skills if the baby is already here. If the mom is pregnant, we do a lot of education in reference to prenatal care, just making sure they're keeping their doctors' appointments and answering any questions or concerns they may have in reference to their pregnancy."
Mrs. Prime said she offers a lot of encouragement and support to new parents to let them know that what they're feeling is normal.
The experienced nurse and mother of three also provides guidance on products that parents could buy to help in the care for their baby as well as feedback on what things that are in the home that could be harmful to their child.
Since no child is the same, Mrs. Prime said she gives each family individualized care.
Mrs. Prime said she is always only a call away to address parents' concerns.
"I really love my job and I think that's really important," she said. "Because I care a lot about my job, I care a lot about the patients that I see. I don't take any of them or anything that they say for granted. I take it to heart. I think because we care so much about our clients, our clients are successful."
Although the program has typically welcomed military parents age 19-24, it has recently opened its doors to older first-time parents as well, said Yvonne Fisk, New Parent Support Program manager.
Mrs. Hodgkins, who has been with Family Advocacy since 2003, said the program has had good participation, with about 25 military families getting support.
The Air Force recently bumped up its support of the program, doubling the number of families that can benefit from the service, Mrs. Hodgkins said.
"Becoming a parent is a huge, life-changing event," she said. "It's a whole new job description for many of us. So this helps parents to prepare and organize their home and their routine."
Ms. Fisk said the program's intent is to head off problems before they occur.
"It's to prevent child abuse and domestic violence," she said. "(It's about) educating families on how to discipline without harming children. Also, we're educating couples on how to communicate in a non-violent atmosphere."
In addition, parents who are often isolated from others can meet and talk about issues that are common to others in their shoes," Ms. Fisk said.
The New Parent Support Program is only one of many programs Family Advocacy offers new parents. Passport to Parenthood, which meets bi-monthly at the Life Skills Center in Bldg. 700, and other programs for expectant moms and dads help ease the fears some new parents may have.
Mrs. Hodgkins said with the program's Air Force-wide reach, parents who are making a permanent change of station may carry on with the service at their new home station.