Background: Healthy Steps (HS) for Young Children strengthens the healthcare system as a source of developmental and behavioral support for parents. This series of papers presents a study of HS as implemented within a large health maintenance organization that tested the benefit of beginning intervention services during pregnancy with an extension program called "PrePare" (PP).
Methods: The design was a quasi-experimental comparison of intervention families with families receiving usual care. Within the intervention, families were assigned randomly to begin receiving Healthy Steps services prenatally (PP+HS) or shortly after birth (HS). We used a systems model, PRECEDE/PROCEED, for planning, implementation, and process evaluation. Outcomes examined when the infants were aged 3 months included changes in family social support and capacity for parenting, parenting behaviors, and satisfaction and loyalty to the health plan.
Results: The sample of 439 families was distributed as follows: usual care (n=136), prenatal initiation of services (PP+HS; n=151), and postnatal Healthy Steps (HS; n=152). Information about program implementation, including provider satisfaction, is provided for the early phases of the study (through age 3 months). The intervention was delivered with fidelity and with minimal disruption to the practice styles of pregnancy providers, most of whom considered the program valuable to their patients. Relative to families in the comparison group, families in the intervention group received more usual care services and more intervention-specific services.
Conclusions: The pregnancy and newborn phases of the intervention were embedded successfully within the existing healthcare delivery system. The program was considered valuable for parents by providers and parents. Participating families received more services and a greater variety of services than families in usual care. Whether these differences result in beneficial outcomes for families or the health plan are topics of the subsequent papers.