Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday signed a law that guarantees parents in New Jersey can receive a free home visit by a nurse within two weeks of their child’s birth, a crucial time of life when the health and well-being of mothers and babies may be at risk.
The “landmark” law will provide at least one free home visit, with the option of two more within the next three months, according to the law, (S690). Participation is voluntary.
Infant and maternal health has been a source of concern in New Jersey, where a Black infant is three times more likely to die before his or her first birthday than a white infant. New Jersey is ranked 47th in the nation for maternal deaths, and a Black mother in New Jersey is seven times more likely than a white mother to die from maternity-related complications. And 40 percent of maternal deaths occur within six weeks of delivery, according to the Commonwealth Fund.
New Jersey is the second state, besides Oregon, to offer a universal visitation program, said Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, the bill sponsor.
Ruiz said she sponsored the legislation based on her own experience with a lactation nurse who came to her home after her daughter was born.
“The time spent with her changed my whole outlook. She answered my questions and gave me the reassurance I needed,” Ruiz said. “I realized if we could provide a service like this early to new mothers and parents they would have additional support to rely on during what is one of the most challenging periods of parenthood.”
The nurse will assess the baby’s well-being and the mother’s physical and mental health. The nurse may also make referrals for other needs the family has, and health insurers would be required to cover these services.
“Research has shown that these programs not only decrease infant and maternal mortality, but also improve mental health, increase child educational attainment, decrease abuse and neglect, and strengthen family success and economic growth,” Murphy said during a bill-signing ceremony at The Leaguers Inc. Head Start Program in Newark.
A universal home visitation program was a key recommendation In First Lady Tammy Murphy’s Nurture NJ Maternal and Infant Health Strategic Plan, which aims to reduce maternal mortality in the state by 50 percent over five years and eliminate racial disparities in birth outcomes.
The state Department of Children and Families will implement the law with a $2.75 million appropriation. The department already oversees a limited visitation program for new mothers using nurses hired through a third-party contract. The hospital where the baby was born will notify the department, which will follow up with the family to schedule an appointment, according to the legislation.
“In the field of child welfare, we know that young children — particularly birth until 5 — are at the highest risk of becoming victims of child abuse and neglect, with infants being the most vulnerable,” said Department of Children and Families Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer. “Through the provision of universal home visiting, we can offer education and support, identify potential challenges early and refer out to additional services if needed.”
The visits are also an important tool to assess new mothers for postpartum depression and other mental health concerns, according to a statement by the Assembly sponsors of the law.
“Enacting a statewide home nurse visitation program will ensure New Jersey mothers receive invaluable postpartum care and advice during this critical period of time, which will ultimately help ensure the health and well-being of families throughout our state,” according to the statement from Assemblywomen Shanique Speight, D-Essex, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, and Assemblyman John Armato, D-Atlantic.
The state has no more than 18 months to develop the regulations to implement the visitation program, according to the law.
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NJ Advance Media Staff Writer Samantha Marcus contributed to this report.
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