Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Program for low-income, first-time moms focuses on life skills

Posted March 16, 2014
Updated March 17, 2014

The first pregnancy and early years with a young child can be an emotional and physically challenging time for any woman, even those with a robust support system of family and friends.

Now imagine being just 17 when your first child is born. You're a victim of domestic violence. You have only a sixth grade education. You've moved four times in the last year because you have no stable home. And you're caring for your three-year-old brother, who has developmental delays.

That young mom lives in Wake County right now. And despite all of the hardships in her own life, she's working hard to pick herself up with help from the Nurse-Family Partnership, an intensive home visiting program that follows low-income, first-time moms from pregnancy to their child's second birthday.

"She has never missed a visit," said Stephannie Senegal, the nursing supervisor for the Wake County program, of the mom.

The Partnership is a national program with a Raleigh office based at Wake County Human Services. Public and private funding support the program. Stephannie Senegal Low-income, first-time moms gain life skills in intensive program

The program started here five years ago in January and is available in more than 20 other counties across North Carolina. So far, leaders say they've seen promising results. They include an 83 percent increase in labor force participation by moms in the program; a 79 percent reduction in preterm delivery for women who smoke; a 48 percent reduction in child abuse and neglect; and a 46 percent increase in the father's presence in the household.

Senegal, who has a son in college and another in high school, said she wanted to get involved in a program likes this after seeing the children she took care of as a long-time public health worker having children of their own years later.

"I felt like what we do in public health is good, but it's often a Band-Aid approach," she said.

She wondered how the public health system could break the cycle of teen pregnancy and poverty - how she could build a better support system for the people she served so they could find a way out.

Senegal was drawn to this particular program because its based on the relationships formed between the new mom and nurse.

"If you're in someone's life for 2.5 years, you have to really get along well," she said. "You have to really like your nurse." 

Social service agencies and schools refer some first-time moms to the program. Others find out about it after seeing fliers at beauty salons, libraries and laundromats. It's free and voluntary. The program begins with moms as early as possible in pregnancy, but no later than 28 weeks. The Wake program has worked with new moms ages 14 to 36. The median age is 19.

One of the local program's five nurses - three full-time and two part-time - is assigned to each mom. They meet to talk about everything from health and wellness issues, breastfeeding and child care to job interviews, budgeting and life skills. The meetings are usually twice a month, but the moms and nurses get together weekly for the first six weeks after the child is born. The Wake program can serve about 100 moms at any given time.

"By and large, we are hoping to empower our clients versus enabling them," Senegal said. "My goal is, at the end of the two years, you'll know how to call [the Department of Social Services] about your Medicare, you'll know how to call daycare, you'll know what to do in a job interview. ... When they leave us at the end of two years, we hope they take a wealth of skills away." 

Among the local graduates of the program, Senegal said, some have gone on to vocational and technical schools. Others, inspired by the nurses who helped them, are looking forward to a career in nursing. 

While there are setbacks, Senegal said it's amazing to watch the change in many of the moms' lives. As a mom herself, Senegal said she no longer takes for granted her own support system and the opportunities she's been able to give her own boys - from afternoons at a children's museum to birthday parties to just her undivided attention.

"A lot of times, our families are in survival mode. A lot of our moms have never received birthday cards and gifts," she said."I'm not taking for granted the wonderful things we have."

For more about the Nurse-Family Partnership, watch my video interview with Senegal and go to the Partnership's website.

If you're wondering how you can help the program, Senegal said she would welcome donations of new items for the moms. They include baby blankets; burp cloths; bath and board books; bibs; stacking cups; blocks; and bottle warmers. They also could use items for moms, including candles, lotions and lip balms, which are packaged together and given to the moms on their birthday.

If you're interested in donating items, email Senegal at

"To be a Nurse-Family Partnership nurse is a passion in and of itself," Senegal said.

Go Ask Mom features local moms every Monday.


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  • Kristin Byrne Mar 18, 2014
    user avatar

    "a 79 percent reduction in preterm delivery for women who smoke"

    It's no secret smoking during pregnancy can cause adverse effects. I'm sorry, but I have no sympathy for people whose child are born premature because they chose to continue smoking. I have sympathy for the child.

    I know quitting smoking is hard. I was a smoker, albeit a very casual smoker (less than pack/week). I found out I was pregnant with my first. Haven't smoked since. It's not about my wants anymore. Not to mention, my husband would probably smack me upside my head.

  • TVs_Deceit Mar 18, 2014

    What they - really - need is someone to donate jobs and daycare. That way not keeping your legs closed won't be the preferred way to get to stay home all day and have people cater to you and give you free things. Put the kids in daycare and make the mothers get up everyday, go to work, and pay their own bills.

  • Cabe Merritt Mar 18, 2014
    user avatar

    Instead of focusing on life skills, maybe she should focus on education and not having unmarried sex, especially when she cannot pay for what she does!

  • Brian Jenkins Mar 18, 2014

    Hardship? No one told her to have sex. What inn the world.

  • sunshine1040 Mar 18, 2014

    17 years old and a 6th grade education. Why did she not attend public schools and get her education. Where was child protective services and the courts when she should have been in school. Sorry but I need more answers before supporting this young woman. Even in youth detention school is required. Learning is not

  • Tim Blanchard Mar 17, 2014
    user avatar

    I wish I had more choices but I have to work to pay for everyone elses poor life decisions.

  • 50s Child Mar 17, 2014

    How wonderful to read about more programs for those loving, noble, unmarried "moms", paid for by those who didn't cause the problem, so that the "moms" who did cause it will be "empowered" call day care!

    Too many of these "moms" are told from an early age that their own "moms" expect them to contribute to the "family" income by getting knocked up. When is THAT situation going to be addressed?