- By Nicole Villalpando American-Statesman Staff
Seraiah Johnson-Joiner is so close to walking that her mother, Serenah Johnson, can’t stand it. In their home in Northwest Austin, Johnson watches Seraiah closely, just weeks before her first birthday.
Nurse Renee Damron also watches after measuring Seraiah’s vitals, including her height and head size, and listening to her heartbeat.
On this day last month, Damron is visiting Seraiah and her family as part of the Nurse-Family Partnership, a national program administered locally by Any Baby Can that helps first-time mothers through their pregnancies and the first two years of their babies’ lives.
Any Baby Can, which started administering the program in 2008, now hopes to double the number of families it can serve in 2018 by adding a second team of eight nurses, one supervisor and an administrator. Each team handles 200 families a year. The expansion will allow Any Baby Can to serve moms outside of Travis County, with an emphasis on expanding first to Williamson County and later to Hays and Bastrop counties. Currently more than 80 mothers are on the waiting list in Travis County.
To do this expansion, Any Baby Can has received a new grant of $432,000 from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and an $80,000 grant from Impact Austin.
Mothers served by this program enter it when they are at 16 to 28 weeks gestation. They have to be below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. Any Baby Can has had moms from age 11 to age 43 in its program.
Each nurse stays with the same mother until she graduates from the program when her child turns 2. The nurse meets with the family every two weeks and sets goals for the family that can be about their baby’s health or milestones or about the mom’s life.
Since Nurse-Family Partnership began, studies have shown that it helps both mom and baby.
Some reported study findings:
Johnson has seen it in her own life. When she became pregnant at age 17, she hid it from many people, including her high school softball team and coach, but finally confessed to her school nurse, who was able to connect her with Any Baby Can.
“At first, I was kind of skeptical about would she answer the phone,” she says of the first time she talked to Damron.
“She was really reassuring,” Johnson says.
Johnson says even though she helped raise her little sister, she learns things from Damron that she never would have known.
Damron has helped Johnson figure out how to finish high school and find a program to start Austin Community College to become a dental hygienist. She’s also helped coach Johnson through how to make breast-feeding work for her. She’s working with Johnson on adding more solid foods into Seraiah’s diet and how to add reading books to her and playing with educational toys.
“She inspires me,” Damron says of Johnson. “She’s a really good mom.”
Any Baby Can typically hires nurses who have worked in pediatrics or neonatal care to be in the program. What Damron likes is that she gets to stay with a patient for more than two years.
“I’m your nurse, but also your mentor,” Damron tells Johnson.
Even though Damron takes measurements on Seraiah, she isn’t meant to replace well-check appointments. If Damron saw something that raised a red flag she would tell Johnson to ask the pediatrician about that or could refer her to other early childhood programs, some of which are also administered by Any Baby Can.
Often, NFP nurses can catch something before a pediatrician might find it because they see the children every two weeks instead of every two to three months that first year.
Nurse-Family Partnership involves the whole family, so Damron also includes Johnson’s mom and stepfather, her sister and even her grandparents in supporting Johnson. Johnson’s boyfriend and Seraiah’s father, Jaylon Joiner, is also involved in the program.
“It’s helped me learn more about what I didn’t know,” he says. He likes to bet with Damron how big Seraiah has grown. “Overall, it’s been a great program,” he says.
As Damron goes over the goals from last time and helps Johnson and Joiner set the goals for this time, she tells them, “I’m super proud of you; I’m super proud of you both.”