By Cindy Foster

University of New Mexico Parents as Teachers Program Brings Resources to New Moms

The attachment between a caregiver and their baby is critical to the child being able to thrive. Enter the Parents as Teachers (PAT) program at the University of New Mexico's Center for Development and Disability (CDD), a part of its newly established Harris Center for Excellence in Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health.

The program was recognized recently by the Parents as Teachers national organization as a blue ribbon affiliate for the high-quality services they are providing to families in Bernalillo and Valencia counties.

"Many of the families we serve from low-income backgrounds are socially isolated, or in need of information on child development and guidance on developmentally appropriate parenting," says Dámaris Donado, clinical manager and acting director of prevention services. "We provide trauma-informed services, research-based curriculum education, and a connection to community resources."

UNM CDD's home-visiting prevention services division actually encompasses two evidence-based programs. The Nurse-Family Partnership program, a free and voluntary service connecting low-income women, who are 28 weeks pregnant or less with their first baby, with registered nurses until the child turns 2 years old. The PAT rogram is also a free and voluntary service that connects women with early childhood professionals along the continuum from the prenatal stage through kindergarten entry. The programs receive referrals from University New Mexico Hospital, UNM clinics, managed care organizations, and other providers.

Both programs share an emphasis on preventing and mitigating adverse childhood experiences, and both programs seek to empower caregivers to provide the best possible care.

"Parenting is really hard," Donado says. "It can feel insurmountable when you are facing the barriers that our families face. We know that a baby can have food, water and be kept warm but that is not enough."

"e serve families on a continuum, At one end of the spectrum might be a young mother with a history of trauma, drug exposures and/or addictions. Then we have families who do not have any of those issues but do suffer from social isolation, from depression, and from poverty," Donado says.

During home visits, CDD staff screen for child development, caregiver depression and domestic violence. That information is then used to connect them with resources in their own community.

One marker for success lies in moms who begin to read to their babies - even before they are born.

"Approximately 85% of families enrolled who have never read to their children begin reading on a daily basis," she says. "The baby may not understand fully the words, but hears the warm tone in her voice and, the brain makes the connection between mom saying words and holding a book," she says.

"Our biggest satisfaction is to be with families from the beginning and to see them grow," Donado says.

"One thing we have long figured out is that every single family that is involved with us wants to be better for their child and wants their child to prosper."

To find out more about the Parents as Teachers program and to refer interested families, call: 505-272-2271.

Categories: Community Engagement, Education, Health, Top Stories, Women's Health