Notes on the Healthy Babies Healthy Children program

Back in May 2016, we were accepted into the Healthy Babies Healthy Children program because A- had a number of risk factors: A- was gaining weight very slowly, she had multiple congenital abnormalities, we were dealing with lots of uncertainty and medical appointments, and I was a first-time parent with no experience with little kids. We definitely needed all the help we could get.

The Healthy Babies Healthy Children program involved visits by a nurse and a home visitor. The nurse visited us every one to two months. The nurse helped us keep a close eye on A-‘s development using the Nipissing District Developmental Screens and the communication checklist. She also shared tips for interacting with A-, modelling the behaviours and explaining the ideas behind them. She used the NCAST Parent-Child Interacion Scale to closely observe how I interacted with A-. (The teaching scale involved a 73-item checklist!) With her guidance, I worked on giving A- specific positive feedback (“You shook the rattle!” instead of “Good job!”) and responding to signs of disengagement. It was also great to be able to ask her questions about the medical issues that came up.

The family home visitor came every one to two weeks. We often referred to the Nipissing checklist to plan what to do. She shared lots of activities that I could do with A-, and she even brought the materials. Thanks to her, A- got to try out things that it might not have occurred to me to start her on early: cruising along the sofa, scribbling with crayons on paper, painting with tempera paint, and so on. It was great to be able to ask her questions about parenting and community resources, especially since she saw A- regularly. It was also interesting to see A- gradually warm up to the family home visitor, despite the occasional reversion to staying close to me after a particularly stressful time.

Things have gotten much better over the past thirteen months that we’ve been helped by the Healthy Babies Healthy Children. On the medical side, we’ve learned more about A-‘s conditions, and they don’t seem to get in the way of her growth. Based on the checklists, A- has been developing normally so far. I’ve internalized many of the tips the nurse and home visitor have shared with me. Since there are higher-risk families they can help, it’s probably time to move on, although maybe we’ll wait until after the 18-month well-baby visit and the spate of medical follow-ups we have in August.

Even after we wrap up with the Healthy Babies Healthy Children program, I’d still like to keep a close eye on A-‘s development so that I can ask for help early if needed. Because we live in Ontario, I can get the PDFs for free from ndds.ca. I can talk to people about activity ideas and timing. The drop-in centre staff can suggest developmentally-appropriate activities. I can ask A-‘s pediatrician and Toronto Public Health questions, and the centres occasionally organize sessions with public health nurses too.

I’m glad we got to go through a program like this. I wish it were universally available. I learned a lot, and I’m looking forward to continuing to apply what I learned.