Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Off to a Good Start: Nurse Family Partnership offers a helping hand to first-time mothers

Allison with her daughters, Oakley and McKyah.

As a pregnant 19-year-old, one credit shy of finishing high school, Allison Pierre worked at a grocery store and saved money so that she and her baby’s father could move out of his grandmother’s house. It wasn’t a perfect plan, but it was a plan.

She knew of a program called the UPMC Pinnacle Nurse Family Partnership (NFP) because her childhood friend’s mother was an NFP nurse, but she didn’t know if it was for her. And the thought was a little frightening.

“It sounds scary, a stranger coming into your home,” she said.

But once the nurse crossed the threshold, Pierre’s life changed quickly.

“We became friends so quick, very welcoming,” she said. “She met me where I was.”

She described being overwhelmed and not knowing her next move. That feeling was amplified with the realization that her baby’s father had begun using heroin and had drained their hard-earned savings.

With coaching from the NFP nurse, Pierre finished high school, received nurse aide training, and moved back in with her father.

“The program changed the trajectory of my life,” she says now.

This type of positive change is the hallmark of what NFP hopes to achieve.

“The end goal is always self-efficacy,” said Susan Brackbill, program director. “Every client has their own goal, and it looks different for everyone.”

Mom Figure

The UPMC Pinnacle Nurse-Family Partnership serves first-time mothers in Dauphin, Franklin, Lebanon, Cumberland and Perry counties. Statewide, 50 counties have NFP partners.

The income-based program starts when an expectant mother is no more than 28 weeks pregnant, and it continues through the child’s second year. While the “nurse” part of the program is vital, keeping tabs on the mother’s health and child’s development, much of the program emphasizes building relationships.

“They have someone who hears them, someone is there just for them,” Brackbill said.

Often, that person in a new mom’s corner is her mom, but Pierre’s mother hasn’t been in the picture since she was little. She said that it might sound weird, but her NFP nurse served as a mom figure to her.

Nurses talk parents and other family members through what often seem like insurmountable issues.

“It’s hard not to get stuck on what I need, what do I not have, what do I not know,” said Meghan Bragers, women’s health social worker for Penn State Health.

She added that NFP assists families in discovering what abilities and resources they do have—things like family support, quick learning skills or a compassionate heart—then focuses on capitalizing on them.

Connection to outside resources is paramount.

NFP connected Pierre with the Women, Infants and Children’s (WIC) program and Education Leading to Employment and Career Training (ELECT) program, which helped her receive a much-needed laptop. She eventually entered and graduated from HACC’s Nurse Aide Training Program.

“If I hadn’t met Nurse Cheryl, I don’t know that I would have pursued it,” Pierre said.

Brackbill said that NFP also strives to decrease health disparities.

“It’s really astounding the barriers that many of these families face,” she said.

These include navigating the maze of accessing health care and scaling barriers like transportation and childcare. NPF doesn’t lift clients over these barriers but provides the ladder and encouragement. The end result is an empowered parent.

“This program is designed for you to get on your feet—and resources,” Pierre said.

Driver’s Seat

NFP participants set their own goals, and nurses help them meet those goals.

“We are strength-based change agents,” said Brackbill.

Bragers echoed the theme.

“This is a client-driven program,” she said. “You are in the driver’s seat the whole time.”

And, like driving, parenting requires practice.

“NFP acts as that thread that is going from pregnancy to the early years,” Bragers said. “Chances are your questions aren’t going to stop after you have the baby.”

Pierre mentioned that her NFP nurse would come to her home and sit with the baby while she got things done. This was conversation time—creating a consistent, trusting relationship that Pierre could count on.

“It is such a privilege to be invited into clients’ homes, to be a part of their lives, and to share these experiences with families,” Brackbill said.

This time together with parents and family members builds a foundation for the future, for when the NFP nurse no longer visits.

Pierre’s future included nursing school, but COVID-19, as well as having to school her children at home, upended that for the moment. Undeterred, she has a very specific plan for her future.

“My goal is to be a visiting nurse for Nurse Family Partnership, and I am going to do that,” she said.

Far from her overwhelmed, stressed-out, 19-year-old self, Pierre has created a life for her family with the guidance and support of NFP. It gave her courage to make hard decisions, brought out the best in her, and directed her to resources that could make her and her children’s lives better.

Does she have any advice to parents facing similar challenges?

“This program is your way out,” she said. 

For more information about the Nurse-Family Partnership in Pennsylvania, visit

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