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U. professors discuss involvement in new statewide maternal health care program

Family Connects New Jersey (Family Connects NJ) is a new maternal health care program, specializing in at-home nurse visits currently available in 5 of New Jersey's 21 counties, including Middlesex County. – Photo by Ömürden Cengiz / Unsplash

In January, New Jersey rolled out a new initiative called Family Connects New Jersey (Family Connects NJ) that provides mothers with free assistance from pediatric nurses during the first two weeks following childbirth, according to a press release.

Joseph Schwab, associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at New Jersey Medical School, is the chair of the board of trustees for the Partnership for Maternal and Child Health of Northern New Jersey, an organization partnering with the program.

Schwab said the goal of Family Connects NJ is to support new families by providing them access to a nurse who will perform a postpartum check-up tailored to the mother's condition, screen for any potential health complications and connect the family to available community resources.

In its current initial stage, Family Connects NJ nurse visits are only available in Essex, Middlesex, Mercer, Cumberland and Gloucester Counties. Such services are expected to be accessible to all New Jersey counties by January 2027. Nurse visits are free of cost and not limited by financial, insurance or immigration status, Schwab said.

He said the Partnership for Maternal and Child Health of Northern New Jersey facilitates Family Connects NJ's services specifically in Essex County.

"The Partnership has a strong presence in Essex County as a trusted provider of health care education and advocacy," Schwab said. "We have the knowledge, experience, resources and infrastructure to meet the goals of this challenging and exciting new venture being offered to (New Jersey) families."

Family Connects NJ aims to reach as many families in Essex County as possible, especially families who face barriers to accessing affordable health care. A family visit with a nurse is designed to identify any postnatal needs and promote community health by suggesting accessible tools and resources to families, Schwab said.

"We know that early intervention in any problem, but particularly in the life of a baby or young child, can improve outcomes, and so we hope that this visit (will) both set the tone and make the connections so that families start out on the right foot and feel supported as they care for their new baby," he said.

Barbara Ostfeld, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and program director of the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Center of New Jersey, said the SIDS Center collaborates with the Central Jersey Family Health Consortium, a partner of Family Connects NJ, to provide essential resources and information for New Jersey families.

The SIDS Center and the Partnership for Maternal and Child Health of Northern New Jersey are among two organizations that are giving support to Family Connects NJ to provide postnatal health care education to New Jersey families, according to Ostfeld and Schwab.

Ostfeld said she wants every family to know about the risk factors of SIDS, adding that the Family Connects NJ program aids in ensuring that families are provided accurate information about SIDS. The SIDS Center, which is funded through a grant from the New Jersey Department of Health, focuses on distributing guidance about SIDS risk and prevention provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics to New Jersey families, she said.

"(The SIDS Center provides) evidence-based risk reduction education to the staff so that they can effectively discuss this information and our free supportive education materials with families," Ostfeld said. "Families receive this information from multiple sources we collaborate with, such as hospitals, pediatricians and social service programs."

In addition to research and educational outreach, the SIDS Center's work also involves grief assistance for families affected by SIDS, Ostfeld said.

New Jersey's work with the SIDS Center and the fact that the state has the second-lowest rate of sudden infant death in the nation can be seen as aspirational for other states, she added.

"We hope that, by offering help early and making connections for those families that need additional support, we will be able to improve the health and well-being of those individuals, as well as the community as a whole," Schwab said. "I believe those involved with this new program have the skill, the energy and the will to make this program a success, and I'm excited to see how it unfolds over the next year."

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