Welcome Every Baby team
Members of the Welcome Every Baby team, from left, Traile Easland, Lisa Caffery, Florene Bednersh, Kathy Klammer and Kendra Johnson. (Contributed photo)

Wendy Sims-Moten: Hello to Florene Bednersh, administrator and executive director of Children and Family Resource Services in partnership with the Santa Barbara County Education Office. It’s the home of Welcome Every Baby, which was recently nationally certified as a Family Connects program. Congratulations!

Florene Bednersh: We’re very excited to have our program recognized as one of the best in the country as a result of great outcomes for children and families.

WSM: How does Welcome Every Baby work?

FB: Welcome Every Baby-Family Connects (WEB-FC) is a nurse home visitation effort. WEB-FC is introduced at the hospital — universally offered in partnership with Public Health and Dignity Health Home Health. Supports include anticipatory guidance on what to expect, bonding, developmental milestones, parenting, breastfeeding, etc. Shortly after discharge from the hospital, a visiting nurse may support breastfeeding or other potential emergencies as identified in the hospital. In a home visit two to four weeks after birth, visiting nurses assess for health of mom and baby, parenting, depression/anxiety, domestic violence, alcohol/substance abuse, etc., and make referrals to the appropriate resource based on the new family’s needs and follows up to ensure they were helped.

WSM: How do parents request a visit?

FB: Each new parent is offered support while still in the hospital, and a visit or follow-up call is scheduled. If they decline a visit, they are given information so they can call after they get home. Some parents make self-referrals. Occasionally, we will have a referral from a pediatrician, a community partner or PEP — Postpartum Education for Parents.

A father practices skin-to-skin contact at a Welcome Every Baby visit.

A father practices skin-to-skin contact at a Welcome Every Baby visit. (Contributed photo)

WSM: What can a family expect from a visit from a nurse?

FB: The visit has specific components that are covered, but each visit is different as it is based on the needs of each family and guided by their needs/questions. It is done in the comfort of their home and provided in a warm, relaxed manner.

WSM: What happens if the nurse identifies a concern?

FB: If it is an emergency — for example, a dehydrated baby or a mom with high blood pressure or an infection — the visiting nurse will support mom as she calls her obstetrician or pediatrician. In nonemergency situations, the nurse makes a referral for additional services and, if needed, the nurse will support the call to make a connection.

WSM: Which agencies and services do the visiting nurses make referrals to? Who are your partners?

FB: Our primary referral is to local Family Resource Centers, which are located in each community and have liaisons to continue to support families. In addition, we make referrals to the family’s primary care provider, lactation coaches, WIC, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, the Department of Social Services, local housing authorities, Domestic Violence Solutions, Children’s Resource & Referral, the Alpha Resource Center, the Tri-Counties Regional Center, the Department of Behavioral Wellness, CALM and PEP.

We have a wonderful relationship with all of our partners. Many of them have identified a specific contact so that we can get immediate support for our families. We work together, share staff development opportunities and nurture our relationships to ensure high-quality, comprehensive and loving services for our families.

WSM: What links do you see between early access to health care and child development outcomes?

FB: Our Family Connects model is evidence-based, and studies show that families who received a nurse home visit demonstrated higher-quality parenting practices, better maternal mental health, safer home environments, higher-quality child care selection and fewer hospitalizations or emergency room visits for their child when compared to families who did not receive a nurse home visit.

WSM: You also lead several cross-sector, multisystem teams focused on strengthening children and families.

FB: Yes, and I am really proud of the progress we’ve made in breaking down silos and working collectively. The Early Childhood and Family Wellness Coalition has more than 50 members that serve children pre-natal through 5. We recently completed a Resource Directory organized by the Protective Factors, which include parental resilience, social connections, concrete support in times of need, knowledge of parenting and child development, and social and emotional competence of children.

The California Collaborative for Social and Emotional Foundations of Early Learning Leadership Team is working to build a culture within Santa Barbara County that acknowledges and supports the social and emotional well-being of every young child. The work of this group is partially funded by a First 5 Systems Change Grant and trains infant, toddler and preschool teachers and home care providers on tools and techniques for working with children to develop their social and emotional skills. These include relationships, classroom environment, teaching friendship skills, emotional literacy, understanding big internal feelings and how to deal with them, how to problem-solve and conflict resolution, and — if all of this doesn’t work — developing a positive support plan. Social and emotional learning is a critical part of school readiness and future success.

A Lompoc mother received breastfeeding support during her Welcome Every baby visit.

A Lompoc mother received breastfeeding support during her Welcome Every baby visit. (Contributed photo)

WSM: What is something people would find surprising about WEB?

FB: How many lives we have saved. We have so many stories where, had we not been there, a mother or baby could have literally experienced a serious consequence. The most common success story is how many mothers were supported with breastfeeding. All of our nurses are lactation educators or board-certified lactations consultants. I can’t tell you how many times I mention that WEB-FC is one of my programs and a new mom will say, “I love WEB! They helped me to successfully breastfeed my baby!”

WSM: What do you need most from the community?

FB: It’s true of many nonprofits, but community donations allow us to do more. We have been serving the community for many years now, and most new moms know or learn about our program either by word of mouth or from the hospital, so awareness is not an issue. WEB-FC is a free, universal service, and we want to keep it that way. Healthier moms and babies as well as stronger parenting in safe, stable and nurturing family environments create more resilient families.

WSM: Why do you personally work to build a network of support for children and families in Santa Barbara County?

FB: I have been an advocate for children since I was young. I have spent more than 45 years now working in the world of education and social supports. I started out in the world of special education as a teacher and then as an administrator. After my retirement from being assistant superintendent of special education with the Santa Barbara County Education Office, I have continued to work, primarily in early intervention because I truly believe that early intervention makes all the difference. We know that challenges that emerge early in children’s lives will significantly impact their later well-being. So, building a network of support for children and families in Santa Barbara County is our No. 1 responsibility.

Young Florene Bednersh on the foundation of her childhood home.

Young Florene Bednersh on the foundation of her childhood home. (Contributed photo)

WSM: I can see from this photo that you’ve always had your smile! What was your early childhood experience like?

FB: I loved learning new things, and from my early days I knew I wanted to be a teacher. When I attended El Marino Elementary in Culver City, I would even line up my dolls and “teach” them. I think I have always been drawn to special education. There was a boy in my first-grade class who had behavioral challenges, but I could always get him to respond to me. In fact, my first-grade teacher actually sat him right across from me so that I could “handle” him for her. It was my destiny. And, when I did my student teaching for my elementary teaching credential, I actually went back to El Marino and worked with some of the same teachers who were there when I was a student!

WSM: You’ve translated this early talent for connecting with people into a long career — and “retirement” — strengthening children and families. Thank you!

— Wendy Sims-Moten is executive director of First 5 Santa Barbara County. Click here for additional columns. The opinions expressed are her own.