Giving Thought: Sound advice for new parents | AspenTimes.com

Giving Thought: Sound advice for new parents

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought

As any parent knows, welcoming a baby into the family is a momentous occasion and a big change. A new baby is always cause for celebration, but it's also a challenge for many parents.

Glenwood Springs-based Family Visitor Programs has provided education and advice for pregnant women and new parents for 34 years. Sandy Swanson, a pediatric nurse with a passion for maternal-child health, is celebrating her 30th year as the program's executive director.

Aspen Community Foundation: Please give us a short history of the Family Visitor Program. When was it created, and how has it evolved?

Sandy Swanson: We were established in 1983, at the tail end of the oil shale boom. A lot of people had been moving into the area and we had very high rates of child abuse and neglect. Staff from the Kempe Center in Denver wrote a grant to the Colorado Department of Health (CDH) to open home visiting programs throughout the state. CDH funded 15 programs, but 14 closed their doors when the funding went away. Our board decided to fundraise and create a nonprofit to keep our program going. The Aspen-to-Parachute communities have been supportive ever since.

Our mission is the same as it was 30 years ago. We provide parenting support for pregnant women and new parents of kids ages 0 to 3. Getting our services is very simple; a one-time visit, which we call "Bright by Three," is provided where parents receive helpful materials and can choose services they may wish to participate in.

Over the last 30 years, programs have evolved nationally and locally. We have adopted various evidence-based curricula designed for families. Our programs fall into different categories — Nurse Family Partnership is for low-income, first-time mothers; Healthy Families America is for parents who want to change the way they raise their children; and Partners for a Healthy Baby is a universal program for any family who requests services — but the fundamental idea is the same. We support families and help their children to thrive.

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The reason I've been here for so long is it's really a perfect fit. I'm a nurse who saw a lot of child abuse, mostly due to a lack of knowledge on the part of the parents. I used to run pediatric emergency rooms, and I saw terrible things happen that were simply a case of parents who didn't know how to manage a crying child. You can really prevent all of that with education.

ACF: Who are your clients? Do you find them, or do they find you?

SS: Our clients are pregnant women or any parent of children 0 to 3. They can self-refer, or they can come to us through doctor's offices, hospitals, human service agencies or law enforcement. We only contact parents with their consent.

Last year, 550 families were referred to us. We actually made 405 Bright by Three visits in which we provided general parenting information, material on child development and local parenting resources. Of those families, about 200 opted for just that initial visit. The remainder enrolled in one of our programs. Basically, we provide parents with information and offer additional parental support services. From there, they choose the next step.

ACF: How do you fund your services?

SS: We don't charge families for our services. Some programs are reimbursed by government agencies, meaning we have to provide the services to get the funding. Nurse Family Partnership, Healthy Families America and the Garfield County Personal Responsibility Education Program work that way. Those programs represent about 60 to 65 percent of our funding.

The rest comes from donors, foundations and Defiance Thrift Store, which we created in partnership with Lift-Up to help locals and fund our programs. Other donors include the cities, towns and counties in our area, private donors, local foundations like the Aspen Community Foundation and some major Denver foundations. It's a mix that's always changing.

ACF: What's next for the Family Visitor Programs?

SS: We would like to reach more parents and provide them with accurate information. The Bright by Three materials are wonderful and free to parents. They include games, tips and information on parenting resources. Parents can also sign up to get Bright by Three text messages.

Another way that we hope to reach more families is with Baby Boxes. They were started in Finland 50 years ago as a safe place to put your baby. They come with a sheet and mattress, along with bag of goodies and information. In Colorado, the boxes are sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Children's Health Foundation. Pregnant women and parents of newborns can get a free box. Information is available at:

http://www.babyboxuniversity.com/content/syllabus/rockyMountainCHF or call us at 945-1234 extension 25.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.