OBJECTIVE: To examine the effectiveness of home visiting by paraprofessionals and by nurses as separate means of improving maternal and child health when both types of visitors are trained in a program model that has demonstrated effectiveness when delivered by nurses.
METHODS: A randomized, controlled trial was conducted in public- and private-care settings in Denver, Colorado. One thousand one hundred seventy-eight consecutive pregnant women with no previous live births who were eligible for Medicaid or who had no private health insurance were invited to participate. Seven hundred thirty-five women were randomized to control, paraprofessional, or nurse conditions. Nurses completed an average of 6.5 home visits during pregnancy and 21 visits from birth to the children’s second birthdays. Paraprofessionals completed an average of 6.3 home visits during pregnancy and 16 visits from birth to the children’s second birthdays. The main outcomes consisted of changes in women’s urine cotinine over the course of pregnancy; women’s use of ancillary services during pregnancy; subsequent pregnancies and births, educational achievement, workforce participation, and use of welfare; mother-infant responsive interaction; families’ home environments; infants’ emotional vulnerability in response to fear stimuli and low emotional vitality in response to joy and anger stimuli; and children’s language and mental development, temperament, and behavioral problems.
RESULTS: Paraprofessional-visited mother-child pairs in which the mother had low psychological resources interacted with one another more responsively than their control-group counterparts (99.45 vs 97.54 standard score points). There were no other statistically significant paraprofessional effects. In contrast to their control-group counterparts, nurse-visited smokers had greater reductions in cotinine levels from intake to the end of pregnancy (259.0 vs 12.32 ng/mL); by the study child’s second birthday, women visited by nurses had fewer subsequent pregnancies (29% vs 41%) and births (12% vs 19%); they delayed subsequent pregnancies for longer intervals; and during the second year after the birth of their first child, they worked more than women in the control group (6.83 vs 5.65 months). Nurse-visited mother-child pairs interacted with one another more responsively than those in the control group (100.31 vs 98.99 standard score points). At 6 months of age, nurse-visited infants, in contrast to their control-group counterparts, were less likely to exhibit emotional vulnerability in response to fear stimuli (16% vs 25%) and nurse-visited infants born to women with low psychological resources were less likely to exhibit low emotional vitality in response to joy and anger stimuli (24% vs 40% and 13% vs 33%). At 21 months, nurse-visited children born to women with low psychological resources were less likely to exhibit language delays (7% vs 18%); and at 24 months, they exhibited superior mental development (90.18 vs 86.20 Mental Development Index scores) than their control-group counterparts. There were no statistically significant program effects for the nurses on women’s use of ancillary prenatal services, educational achievement, use of welfare, or their children’s temperament or behavior problems. For most outcomes on which either visitor produced significant effects, the paraprofessionals typically had effects that were about half the size of those produced by nurses.
CONCLUSIONS: When trained in a model program of prenatal and infancy home visiting, paraprofessionals produced small effects that rarely achieved statistical or clinical significance; the absence of statistical significance for some outcomes is probably attributable to limited statistical power to detect small effects. Nurses produced significant effects on a wide range of maternal and child outcomes.