JF&CS News Fall 2013

Caring for a newborn can be challenging, with sleepless nights and a steep learning curve for parents. But what if your child was exposed to painkillers or heroin in the womb? Or if you were struggling with your own road to recovery? JF&CS has launched an innovative program to help mothers who are facing these issues become the best parents they can be.

Project NESST (Newborns Exposed to Substances: Support and Therapy) offers support for substance-exposed newborns and their families. The population of substance-exposed newborns has grown dramatically in recent years, in part due to the rising incidence of prescription painkiller use and abuse. While some programs focus on the medical needs of infants who were exposed to opiates, cocaine, prescription medications, or other substances, this pioneering program is one of the first to address the emotional and psychological challenges of being the parent of a substance-exposed newborn.

"Project NESST grew out of more than twenty years of expertise in perinatal work, home visiting, and parent-child mental health," said Eda Spielman, PsyD, Clinical Director of the JF&CS Center for Early Relationship Support (CERS). "It brings together those areas of experience with our growing knowledge of parenting in the context of substance-use recovery to address the needs of substance-exposed newborns and their families."

The program will offer individualized services to each client from pregnancy through the early years of parenting. Staff will include both clinicians to provide infant-parent mental health treatment and Mentoring Moms to offer peer support and connections to community resources.

Project NESST combines the creativity and expertise of CERS staff and the passion of a long-time JF&CS Board Member and CERS Advisory Committee member, Ellie Svenson, a clinical psychologist.

"I have always been interested in responding to the needs of vulnerable populations in whatever way I can," said Ellie. "We hope for healthy outcomes for mother, baby, and their relationship… so that these moms can feel able to meet their own needs in terms of a stable recovery and the emotional needs of their babies," said Ellie. "I'm very excited about Project NESST."

In the process of developing NESST over the past year, CERS staff spoke with providers and policy experts who have been involved with this population and learned of a gap in understanding the experience and needs of the women themselves. In collaboration with NESST's evaluation team at the BU School of Social Work, staff began to interview mothers about their experience of pregnancy, labor and delivery, and parenting a substance-exposed newborn.

The interviews revealed the pain, isolation, and judgment these women feel. One woman commented, "You need somebody there who isn't judging you and understands. I always felt like if I was to tell a doctor that I'd be so judged for having a newborn and having a drug addiction." Another said, "You feel so guilty and want to do the right thing but don't have the resources, the help, or therapy." Another added, "Your program needs to offer advocacy for the mothers because no one listens to us."

This fall, the pilot program will begin doing just that for a small number of families. With the engagement of a therapist and mentor mom, these vulnerable newborns and their mothers will have the support they need for a better start and a smoother road to recovery.

For more information, call 781-647-JFCS (5327) or email your questions via our contact us page.