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Meeting Document Type: 
Information Report
HBHC Program Update

DATE

December 17, 2020

SUBJECT

Healthy Families Department and Healthy Babies, Healthy Children Program Update


BACKGROUND

Healthy Babies, Healthy Children Program (HBHC) is a provincial home visiting program designed to help children get a healthy start in life through nursing and peer support. The program supports the most vulnerable and marginalized families in our community with the goal of improving developmental outcomes. HBHC has three entry stages namely; Prenatal; Postpartum; and Early Identification; and requires screening to identify a family at risk (screen score 2 or >). The HBHC screen identifies a family experiencing a need, issue or risk that may compromise healthy child development; and/or parenting ability; and who may benefit from a more thorough evaluation and receipt of HBHC program services or other community services. HBHC staff utilize standardized assessments and evidence-based interventions to work on family centred goals and develop a Family Service Plan that monitors the progress and achievement of those goals. HBHC is a free voluntary home-visiting program compromised in WECHU of 16 nurses, 4 Family Home Visitors (lay providers) and Social Workers (SW) that support families with:

  • healthy pregnancy and prenatal care
  • developing a positive relationship with their child
  • promoting child’s growth and development
  • connecting families to resources and programs within their community
  • working together with families to help give their child the best start in life

PROGRAM UPDATE

As a result of COVID-19, pandemic-related redeployment significant adjustments were made to service delivery.  Beginning in March 2020, in-person home visits with families were discontinued due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Two nurses and one social worker continued to support 138 existing HBHC families. All visits with families moved to virtual and phone support and any new qualifying parents who wished to participate in the program were placed on a waitlist until June (48). These forms of communication have inherent limitations (e.g., inability to provide hands-on demonstration or effectively observe the home environment) and many clients did not have access to the technology needed to facilitate meaningful interactions. To maintain engagement and support client progress, staff needed to customize service delivery to meet client needs. The HBHC Social Worker has since worked to improve client access to the internet via financial aide.

The Healthy Family’s department hotline has remained operational, triaging calls on healthy growth & development, community resources and breastfeeding. The Lactation Consultant (LC) was also available to provide breastfeeding support over the phone or virtually to both HBHC clients and community members. Due to the cancellation of services and limited supports available to new mothers during the pandemic, the Healthy Families department prioritized calls to all mothers the HF within 48-72 hours of birth.

Lack of departmental engagement of physicians and midwives during this time likely contributed to the significant reduction in referrals to the HBHC program. Overall, referrals decreased by 14% over the pandemic compared to the same period in 2019. This may also be in part due to the absence of HBHC Hospital Liaison nurse.  Prenatal referrals have been the most significantly affected. Only 22 prenatal referrals were received during this time, compared to 160 in 2019. This change warrants further investigation since prenatal intervention within the HBHC program can improve pregnancy outcomes and better prepare families to navigate the challenging newborn stage of parenting.

Currently, HBHC has six (6) public health nurses supporting 161 clients on caseload. Staff have reported an increase in mental health concerns among their clients and increased severity for those with pre-existing anxiety and depression. This may be attributed, at least in part, to the financial strain, isolation, and general uncertainty caused by the pandemic as reported by some clients. In response, WECHU has hired an additional Social Worker for the HBHC program to focus on mental health-related issues. This Social Worker will consult with HBHC staff regarding mental health challenges, provide brief counselling directly to clients, and help clients access appropriate supports within the community.

Additionally, staff have reported that clients continue to struggle to afford healthy food for their families and access affordable housing. Pandemic-related income loss, along with the simultaneous increase in the price of food and housing have placed excessive strain on the program’s low-income families. This strain has left some families looking for ways to save on groceries, including prematurely discontinuing the use of infant formula. Transitioning from infant formula to fluid cow’s milk before nine months is linked to nutrient deficiency that can hinder a child’s lifelong growth and development potential. To ensure that clients have access to the funds they need to afford infant formula or support a nutritious diet for the breastfeeding mother, the department’s Registered Dietitian and HBHC Social Worker are developing a procedure to ensure clients are able to access the province’s Special Diet Allowance in a timely manner. The Special Diet Allowance provides additional funds to families on social assistance who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or reliant on infant formula.  The Social Worker is also continuing to investigate actions to improve access to affordable housing.  

During these unprecedented times, HBHC staff have remained committed to providing the best possible service to the most vulnerable families within our community. We have continued to work and develop processes with our community partners to ensure wrap around care for our families. Outreach to local midwives and physicians has begun with regard to increasing our Prenatal and Early-ID referrals. Additionally, Policies and Procedures have been prepared to safely reinitiate in-person home visits, on a case-by-case basis, in an on-going effort to improve client engagement and adequately address their needs.

COMPARISON OF WITH RISK SCREENS, 2019 & 2020

Entry Level into HBHC- April 1st-November 25, 2019/2020

Screens Completed

Screens with Risk >2

2019

2020

2019

2020

Prenatal

160

22

122

22

Postpartum

2564

2344

1203

1017

Early Identification-18 Month Screening Assessment

75

58

70

37