Illinois First Lady Diana Rauner visited Bloomington-Normal on Friday to discuss the importance of Illinois Family Connects, a free newborn home visit program.
Rauner is the president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, which helps fund the program. However, she said the majority of funding comes from various state and federal programs.
"It’s my vision that every baby born in Illinois will be visited by a nurse at home in the first few weeks of life, and I think that’s something we can all work towards and aspire to,” Rauner said.
Family Connects is free and available to all newborn parents. Rauner said it is not a program for poor families, but a program to provide education and assistance to all families.
At-home nurse checks are scheduled for three weeks after the baby is born. These trained nurses can detect a need for referrals and assist new parents with rituals like bathing, diapering, and swaddling.
In some countries around the world, newborn visits are standard care procedures. Rauner said she doesn’t believe we are likely to get to that point anytime soon in the U.S.
“But we do believe that the universal home visit is ideally a coordinated entry system into any number of services and supports, prevention services and supports, that many of our ‘systems’ are looking to do,” she said.
Family Connects has pilot programs in their second year in Peoria and Stephenson counties. At-home visits are available to parents who give birth at specified hospitals in both counties.
Rauner said, ideally, she would like to see prevention dollars in public health, child welfare, and early intervention to support this type of collaborative program.
“Again, a coordinated intake system that reaches all families, and reaches families within a consistent and coordinated way,” she said. “And helps us them build support and build awareness for the importance of supporting all families in the first years of life.”
Regarding concerns about how Family Connect might hinder other family healthcare facilities in the area, Rauner said this is a non-issue.
“Coordinated intake actually seems to help the programs stay full and see the right people. So again, in the case of Family Connects, what we’re finding is the services are being used and they’re being used better, if you will.”
Should the program expand, Rauner said there is no definite plan for funding.
“What we’re talking about in our state is the opportunity to begin a few more of those pilots,” she said. “We’re still calling them pilots, I don’t know what point they become just actual things. But we’re really excited about the potential here.”
Rauner was the opening speaker for Friday's Illinois Public Health Association conference.
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