Family Spirit Intervention Benefits Teen Moms, Babies

October 20, 2014

An intensive in-home program aimed at pregnant teens at risk for drug use and depression, specifically American Indian teens, proves successful.

An intensive in-home program aimed at pregnant teens successfully reduced drug use, depression, and behavior problems.

Researchers from John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health focused the intervention on American Indian teens living in the Southwest who were at high risk for depression and drug use, noting that American Indian adolescents have the highest rates of teen pregnancy, illicit substance use, suicide, and dropping out of high school of any racial or ethnic group in the country. The findings indicate that the intervention could likely be replicated in other low-income populations throughout the country, the authors note in the study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Key Points:

- A study testing an intensive in-home visiting program for low-income pregnant teens proved to reduce depression, drug use, and behavioral problems.

- The study focused on American Indian teenagers living in the Southwest but could be replicated for other high-risk teenage mother populations, researchers note.

The authors compared two groups: those that received optimized standard care, including transportation to prenatal and well-baby clinic visits, pamphlets about childcare and other resources, and referrals to local services; and those who had the optimized standard care plus 63 in-home education sessions with a paraprofessional. The in-home program, called the Family Spirit intervention, began with weekly visits through the last trimester of pregnancy, followed by biweekly visits until four months after the baby's birth, monthly visits from four months to 12 months, and then bimonthly visits until the child turned three.

Mothers who received the home visits were less likely than those in the control group to use illegal drugs, be depressed, or experience behavior problems. Plus, the children born to mothers who received home visits were less likely to have early signs of problems, including anxiety and depression.

"We found a consistent pattern of success across a number of different outcome measures," says the study's principal investigator John Walkup, MD, an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a faculty member within the Center for American Indian Health. "These early years are critical ones for children. We teach these mothers not only how to be competent parents, but how to cope with stressors and other risk factors that could impede positive parenting skills."