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Five year prenatal substance exposure study to start in September

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State officials and nonprofits in Delaware are preparing to further study how to improve outcomes for children diagnosed with prenatal substance exposure.

The Healthy Outcomes with Parent Engagement, or HOPE model, is planned to start in September.

It will allow intervention with 40 expecting Delaware mothers seeking treatment for substance abuse disorder through Connections or Brandywine Counseling.

The mothers will receive regular home visits from a peer addiction recovery coach and a registered nurse, in addition to attending a parenting skills class.

The services will be offered through childbirth and for the following two years. The progress of the children will be monitored for the next five years to determine if this is an effective model for implementation.

Nonprofit Children and Families First is the lead agency in the private-public partnership. CEO Leslie Newman says the program’s goal is to keep families together.

“We think it’s going to be a chance to help women to be the best moms they can be and to be able to raise their children, because we know that when parents raise their own children they have the best chance for success,” said Newman.

The HOPE model is funded by a Federal Regional Partnership Grant and is part of a larger study by national policy research group Mathmatica examining the issue of substance abuse in mothers.

Delaware Office of Child Advocate’s Investigation Coordinator Jennifer Donahue says the local study seeks to determine if prenatal intervention is the best treatment model—compared to intervention during the birth event or later in a child’s life.

“It will be a randomized controlled study. So we will have a treatment group and a control group and we will have the ability at the end of the study—which will be five years—to determine whether or not this model is successful,” said Donahue.

Donahue says supervisors, nurses and peer recovery coaches still need to be hired and trained.

The finalized planning of the HOPE model comes on the heels of Gov. John Carney signing off on “Aiden’s law,” requiring health care providers to notify the Division of Family Services when a baby is born exposed to substances.

Last October, the state started the Plans of Safe Care hospital pilot programs ahead of Carney’s signature to ensure services and supports would be in place for new mothers using substances.

Donahue says that program will be expanded to all six of Delaware’s birthing hospitals next month.

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