In a perfect world, every expectant parent would receive support, encouragement, and all the resources needed to ensure the best possible outcome for themselves and their newborn. However, when a parent or parent-to-be is struggling with substance use, seeking that support can be difficult. The outcome could easily become stress, isolation, and the inability to fully care for their new baby.
Yavapai SHIFT (Safe Healthy Infants and Families Thrive) Taskforce is a new program in Yavapai County designed to meet those parents’ needs. Dignity Health, Yavapai Regional Medical Center’s (YRMC’s) Family Resource Center and Family Birthing Center have teamed up with Prevent Child Abuse Arizona to bring comprehensive support to pregnant families in our community who are at risk of substance use disorder.
Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Anna Young, responsible for all of the juvenile justice cases in the county, is credited for spearheading the program locally, after learning about the first SHIFT pilot in Maricopa County. Yavapai County SHIFT is the second pilot of the program in the state.
“Our whole approach starts with a partnership,” explains Lynn Daugherty, Nursing Director at YRMC’s Family Birthing Center. “We partner with our patients and their families and meet them wherever they are at that point in their life. The connection is made in a safe, non-judgmental environment. It’s a partnership that will help them get on a better path and rewrite their life story.”
Yavapai County SHIFT follows an integrated approach. A spectrum of healthcare providers works collaboratively with at-risk families before, during, and after the birth of their child. Partners include prenatal care specialists, medication-assisted treatment programs, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program, and home visitation programs. The goal is to keep the family together. A healthy parent means a healthy baby, both physically and emotionally.
“If we want to see a reduction in harm, generational foster care, and poor health outcomes related to adverse childhood experiences, then we as a society have to take the best care possible of our youngest members – starting before they are born. And we can’t do that without also supporting families,” says Meghan Hays Davis, Program and Training Director of Prevent Child Abuse Arizona and lead collaborator in bringing SHIFT to Yavapai County.
By design, the program is easy for a family to connect with. Many women first discuss their needs with their obstetrician. However, David Barko, Director of YRMC’s Family Resource Center says there is no ‘wrong door.’
“You can connect with us at the Family Birthing Center and the Family Resource Center. Contact any of us. That’s the first step. The rest we’ll do together, supporting you along the way,” he says.
“We want to remove the stigma and normalize what’s happening, making it easier for moms, moms-to-be, and their families to seek help,” Barko says. “Substance use is a biological condition – there are neurological things happening in the brain. Too many providers have the outdated belief that the expectant parent is ‘choosing’ their condition. We are here to overcome that type of thinking. Across any substance use or mental health challenge, we are not here to judge.”
Daugherty explains that substance use disorder is often a result of trauma in one’s life, most frequently in the form of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, domestic violence or depression. She emphasizes that, “these moms need treatment and a tremendous amount of support in order to move in a different direction in their lives.”
“Our plan of care from pregnancy through birth and beyond is for our moms to demonstrate love and engagement with their babies,” she continues. “In spite of the trauma and substance use they have experienced, we want them to be able to say that they have changed the course of their life, and the course of their baby’s life.”
Daugherty sums it up in a few simple words. “All moms love their babies, including moms who struggle with substance use.”