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“I've worked with Headway for over ten years and the quality of the services they provide to youth and their family has been excellent. The staff genuinely care about their clients and want them to be successful…they hold their young clients accountable for their behavior.

- Willie Bridges, Senior Planning Analyst, Office of the Hennepin County Attorney

Headway Minute

February 28, 2012 

Healthy Families:
The Importance of Parent/Child Bonding

For more than a hundred years, scientists and psychologists have been studying the development and influence of the parent/child bond, the intense emotional attachment that develops between parents and their children.

The research on the subject identifies just how significantly bonding - or the lack of bonding - affects a great deal of a child's life. As the body of research grows, it confirms the benefits of healthy bonding, and identifies the challenges that result from poor bonding. Either way, a child continues to be impacted as they grow into adolescence and adulthood. A recent study, for example, found that children who do not establish a strong, positive bond with their primary caregiver(s) are more likely to be obese as teenagers.

With the knowledge of how important healthy bonding is to the long-term development of children, understanding the methods that help improve and strengthen this bond is very important.

We know that situations including unstable housing, domestic violence, chemical abuse, mental illness, or poverty, are all likely to negatively impact the ability of parents to form a quality connection with their children.

Headway's Healthy Families Program

Headway's Healthy Families home visiting program is designed to work with first-time mothers and fathers who are likely to have a difficult time developing a healthy bond with their infant. Headway is one of several organizations providing Healthy Families home visiting services throughout the Metropolitan area.

Program outcomes are measured through regular screening and assessment, and are continuously tracked through the Metro Alliance for Healthy Families.

Program outcomes are measured through regular screening and assessment, and are continuously tracked through the Metro Alliance for Healthy Families.

The results are very positive.

Among participating families:

  • 92% met the target for having a connection to a primary health provider
  • 89% were current with well-child exams
  • Immunization rates for children 24 months of age were 98% (compared to immunization rates in the seven-county Metropolitan area that range between 30-59%)

After 15 or more home visits in a 12-month period:

  • 85% of children rated within average range for cognitive and physical growth
  • 95% of children rated within average range for behavioral/emotional milestones

Finally, results from a 23-month study showed a reduction in child maltreatment:

  • The child maltreatment report rate was 9.3%, considerably below the national rate of 21.9%

How the Healthy Families Program Works

Parents participate in this program on a voluntary basis and typically are identified or referred while in the hospital for the child's birth, during a post-birth home visit by a nurse, or through contact with community resources while pregnant.

Whenever possible, Headway's home visiting staff begins working with expectant mothers and fathers before the child is born, or as soon as possible within the first three months of the child's birth. Our staff receives extensive and ongoing training, and has the knowledge and resources new parents need to significantly improve the strength and quality of their bond with their child.

Through weekly home visits, parents learn to identify and monitor their infant's physical and emotional growth. Parents are encouraged to stay in the program for up to four years with home visits decreasing to monthly. In addition to all the benefits associated with a healthy bond between parent and child, support from Healthy Families results in children being adequately prepared for pre-school and kindergarten.

Healthy Families is just one of many programs provided by Headway Emotional Health Services. Each year, Headway helps more than 11,000 children, adolescents, adults, couples and families work through issues of depression, suicidal thoughts, anger management, abuse, truancy and divorce. Many of our services support strengthening the healthy bond between parents and children.


Pat Dale, CEO
Headway Emotional Health Services

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