Centering Families: We are Better Together

Trenton, NJ. – In August 2021, after 16 months of virtual groups, Henry J. Austin Health Center returned to hosting in-person Centering Families sessions. The Centering Families Program is a group under the primary care model certified by the Centering Healthcare Institute (CHI) that only kicked off two months before the outbreak of the COVID-19. HJAHC believes that mothers often represent the cornerstone of a family’s overall health, thus, the program combines one-on-one child and caregiver health assessment, interactive learning, and community building in a postnatal group setting.

Program Coordinator Preeti Bhandari offers, “The Centering team providers are part of the group session, and the group knows that this is their team which makes them feel confident and comfortable participating in the screening of their babies. Parents have expressed feeling more informed, learning about self-care and being comfortable sharing their stories, and knowing they have support. They feel empowered to make healthier choices for themselves, their babies, and their families and build friendships outside the groups.”

Each session brings together a group of 5 to 6 baby and mom/caregiver pairs, regularly, for the first two years of the child’s life. The mom or caregiver receives a Centering Parenting notebook with ample information to read, and pages to track the baby’s growth and the health and wellness of the mom. The group sessions are relaxed and include interactive, exciting activities and food! A clinical provider facilitator and co-facilitator guide group discussions and interactive activities on numerous topics such as breastfeeding, nutrition, safe sleep, family planning, maternal mental health, and more. Each two-hour session also includes one-on-one private time with the provider and opportunity for scheduled immunizations.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the new parents shared being stressed due to work situations, taking care of children during quarantine, and uncertainty surrounding the virus and vaccine safety. The parents struggled to feel connected to a community but did not want to come out of their houses with their babies. HJAHC’s experience with remote workflows during the pandemic allowed for a quick transition to a virtual format. The Centering team worked tirelessly to maintain proper precautions for return to in-person sessions and addressed transportation challenges so that the mothers were assured and comfortable.

Bhandari adds, “The parents attending virtual centering expressed gratitude to be able to meet the Centering team and other parents at a time when they were unsure and scared about the coronavirus. They shared their fears and problems, and we were able to link them to resources and ensure they received the correct information, and help/care that they needed. Maintaining the camaraderie between the Centering families while they were apart was a challenge, but it worked because irrespective of the challenge, they motivated us to continue to offer virtual Centering and create a safe space for families to come together even when they were apart and share their experiences.”

In this program, there is no waiting time – the mom or caregiver and their baby simply walk into the HJAHC Centering Families room for their appointment. Groups start and end on time. Henry J. Austin Health Center empowers moms and caregivers to engage in healthcare, make sound decisions and efficiently take care of their babies. With generous funding from the Burke Foundation and Central Jersey Family Health Consortium and dedicated providers, the program has already seen, higher well-child visit rates, higher immunization rates, and higher and extended breastfeeding rates. The team believes Centering Families is the future of quality integrated care and is thrilled to continue to grow.

If you are interested in signing up or learning more about Centering Families, contact our Centering Families Coordinator, Preeti Bhandari at preeti.bhandari@henryjaustin.org or call 609-278-6009. You can also visit https://henryjaustin.org/service/centering-families/.

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