Effect of a Universal Postpartum Nurse Home Visiting Program on Child Maltreatment and Emergency Medical Care at 5 Years of Age: A Randomized Clinical Trial.

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The Family Connects (FC) program, a community-wide nurse home visiting program for newborns, has been shown to provide benefits for children and families through the first 2 years of life. Potential longer-term outcomes for child well-being remain unknown.


To determine the effect of randomization to FC on child maltreatment investigations and emergency medical care through 5 years of age.

Design, setting, and participants

In this randomized clinical trial, families of all 4777 resident births in Durham County, North Carolina, from July 1, 2009, to December 31, 2010, were randomly assigned to receive the FC program or treatment as usual. Impact evaluation was on an intent-to-treat basis and focused on a subsample of 549 families randomly selected from the full population and included review of hospital and Child Protective Services (CPS) administrative records. Statistical analysis was conducted from November 6, 2020, to April 25, 2021.


The FC programs includes 1 to 3 nurse home visits beginning at the infant age of 3 weeks designed to identify family-specific needs, deliver education and intervention, and connect families with community resources matched to their needs. Ongoing program engagement with service professionals and an electronic resource directory facilitate effective family connections to the community.

Main outcomes and measures

Two primary trial outcomes were CPS-recorded child maltreatment investigations and emergency medical care use based on hospital records.


Of the 4777 randomized families, 2327 were allocated to the intervention, and 2440 were allocated to services as usual. Among the children in the full study population, 2380 (49.8%) were female, 2397 (50.2%) were male, and 3359 (70.3%) were from racial/ethnic minority groups; of the 531 children included in the impact evaluation follow-up, 284 (53.5%) were female, 247 (46.5%) were male, and 390 (73.4%) were from racial/ethnic minority groups. Negative binomial models indicated that families assigned to FC had 39% fewer CPS investigations for suspected child maltreatment through 5 years of age (95% CI, -0.80 to 0.06; 90% CI, -0.73 to -0.01; control = 44 total investigations per 100 children and intervention = 27 total investigations per 100 children); intervention effects did not differ across subgroups. Families assigned to FC also had 33% less total child emergency medical care use (95% CI, -0.59 to -0.14; 90% CI, -0.55 to -0.18; control = 338 visits and overnight hospital stays per 100 children and intervention = 227 visits and overnight hospital stays per 100 children). Positive effects held across birth risk, child health insurance, child sex, single-parent status, and racial/ethnic groups. Effects were larger for nonminority families compared with minority families.

Conclusions and relevance

The findings of this randomized clinical trial suggest that, when implemented with high quality and broad reach, a brief postpartum nurse home visiting program can reduce population rates of child maltreatment and emergency medical care use in early childhood.

Trial registration

ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT01406184.





Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Goodman, W Benjamin, Kenneth A Dodge, Yu Bai, Robert A Murphy and Karen O'Donnell (2021). Effect of a Universal Postpartum Nurse Home Visiting Program on Child Maltreatment and Emergency Medical Care at 5 Years of Age: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA network open, 4(7). p. e2116024. 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.16024 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/25477.

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Ben Goodman

Research Scientist

Ben Goodman is a research scientist at the Center for Child and Family Policy. His research interests focus broadly on the implementation and evaluation of population-based interventions to reduce child maltreatment and improve parent and child health and well-being, including the evidence-based Family Connects postpartum nurse home visiting program. His research also examines how sources of stress and support shape the quality of parent-child relationships, parents’ own well- being, and child development.

Research Interests:
  • Home Visiting
  • Child Maltreatment
  • Parenting
  • Program Evaluation
  • Ph.D. The Pennsylvania State University - 2009

Yu Bai

Statistician III

Robert A. Murphy

Associate Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Dr. Murphy is a licensed clinical psychologist focused on child traumatic stress, including its treatment and prevention and development and dissemination of evidence-based interventions. He is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University School of Medicine. Dr. Murphy serves as Executive Director for the Center for Child & Family Health (CCFH), a community and three university partnership (Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina Central University) dedicated to research, training, and intervention related to child trauma and maltreatment. Interests include treatment and prevention of child maltreatment and traumatic stress, dissemination of evidence based interventions, and improving mental health care for military families. In partnership with the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy Center for Child and Family Policy, he has been active in the development and evaluation, via two randomized controlled trials, of a brief, postnatal, universal nurse home visiting program (Family Connects) that has demonstrated improved parenting and parental distress, as well as reduced emergency medical care costs and lower rates of reported child maltreatment. Since 2003, CCFH has been a community treatment and services center within the National Child Traumatic Stress Network focused on improving access to evidence based mental health care for foster care youth and developing trauma informed child welfare systems.

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