Early language development improvements in the most at-risk families.

Children who are exposed to substances during pregnancy, maltreated, or cared for poorly early in life have difficulty with learning, memory, and early language development. It is no surprise to learn these children quickly fall behind in school functioning. But healthy pregnancies and care beginning at the earliest age can make a difference.

Nurse-Family Partnership can help ensure school readiness for young children born into families at risk, and prevent poor school starts that can lead to a lifelong struggle with educational achievement.

When mothers have more difficulty caring well for their children because they suffer from symptoms of depression, limited intellectual functioning and diminished belief in their ability to manage their lives, and they are surrounded by social disadvantage, research on the Nurse-Family Partnership shows that their nurse-visited children fare better in cognitive and language development than their control-group counterparts.

Children’s early language and cognitive development are associated with school performance and later earnings. In the Memphis trial, nurse-visited children born to mothers with low psychological resources (higher levels of depression, anxiety, and lower levels of intellectual functioning and sense of mastery over their lives) had better academic achievement in the first six years of elementary school compared to their counterparts in the control group.1 In the Denver trial, nurse-visited four-year olds born to mothers with low psychological resources had better language development and ability to control their impulses than did their control-group counterparts.2These outcomes were seen among the most at-risk families; there were no benefits of the program for these types of outcomes among children born to mothers with relatively high psychological resources (those with greater wherewithal to manage caring for their children while living in poverty).

1.Kitzman H, Olds DL, Cole R, Hanks C, Anson E, Sidora-Arcoleo K, Luckey DW, Knudtson MD, Henderson CR, Holmberg J. Enduring effects of prenatal and infancy home visiting by nurses on children: Age-12 follow-up of a randomized trial. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2010: 164(5):412-418.

2.Olds DL, Robinson J, Pettitt L, Luckey DW, Holmberg J, Ng RK, Isacks K, Sheff K. Effects of home visits by paraprofessionals and by nurses: age-four follow-up of a randomized trial. Pediatrics 2004: 114(6):1560-1568.