Robyn Byers lives in Sunnyside, one of Houston’s historically African-American neighborhoods. She’s 38 years old and found out she was pregnant with her first child a couple years ago. That’s also when she found out about a program run by the City of Houston Health Department called Nurse Family Partnership. Byers said she was a little bit skeptical about the program because it requires home visits from a nurse every two weeks for two and a half years.
“But because there were so many training materials, and the nurse was so friendly, we built a rapport. And it was easy after awhile,” said Byers, who used to work as a case manager.
The Nurse Family Partnership operates out of multi-service centers in Sunnyside and Acres Homes. The health department is focusing efforts in those neighborhoods because, statistically, black women have more premature births and low birth-weight babies than other groups. Lucy Romero runs the program, where 65 percent of the population they serve is African-American. The nurses provide counseling on a healthy diet, reducing the use of tobacco, alcohol and illegal substances, if that’s an issue, and ongoing prenatal care.
“How wonderful would it be if you had your own nurse to talk to, your own nurse to call on?” said Romero, who is the chief nurse for the City of Houston’s Nurse Family Partnership.
And Romero says that one-on-one support is working. They’ve been able to bring down the low birth-weight percentage from 17.3 percent to 15.1 percent. The nurses also help the women emotionally prepare for having a baby. They talk about developmental milestones for children. And they provide coaching on how to improve the mothers’ economic outlook after giving birth.
“They may be in school, some of them have dropped out. So we do encourage them to get their high school diploma or GED, or enroll in a trade or vocational school, if not college,” Romero said.
There are about 300 women enrolled at any given time. The youngest first-time mothers to participate were 12 and in middle school. The oldest was 44.
Robyn Byers has now graduated from the program and encourages her girlfriends to sign up. But as a stay-at-home mom navigating life with an opinionated toddler, she almost wishes she could stay in the program for another two years.