Nurse Family Partnership: Developing Your Baby’s Brain

by Claire Hutson and Elizabeth Keomanikhoth

We are all aware of the physical changes a baby undergoes in its first few years of life. It’s easy to observe: from sitting up to crawling to walking and talking, babies develop a great deal. But what about the mental changes that go on underneath all of that? Those are a lot less easy to observe, especially to the untrained eye, but helping your baby’s brain grow is just as important as helping the rest of its body grow. So how do you do that?

Talking and Reading to Your Baby

A baby’s brain develops through their interactions with their parents and the environment around them. Simply talking to your baby is incredibly important for building the brain. But communication with your baby does not just mean spitting out words at them. It can also be shown through mimicking the faces and movements that they make, and putting an emotion title to the faces or attitudes they express. For example, if your child is laughing and smiling, you could say, “You seem to be very happy right now!” This simple acknowledgment places context to certain words and enables them to gain a better understanding of the world around them. Exploring what will happen when they fuss, blow bubbles, giggle, babble, and even throw food on the floor helps further their brain development. These experiments allow them to communicate with you and other caregivers, and are the building blocks for a properly wired brain. Research shows that talking to and interacting with your baby in the first 3 years of their life builds the ultimate foundation for what will be needed to support later reading and thinking skills.

You are your baby’s first teacher. Learning to read depends greatly on having and hearing a large vocabulary. Reading to your baby allows them to hear words that you may not normally say to them on a daily basis. It also puts pictures and a story to the words that you are saying. You are exposing them to new vocabulary and concepts such as numbers, letters, colors, and shapes. It will build memory, vocabulary, and listening skills. When your child hears more words, it increases the number and variety of words they will understand and use later on in life.  Reading books will keep them entertained, especially if the book includes a song for you to sing, and will make talking to your baby much easier and more engaging.

What is the Nurse Family Partnership?

But I am only acutely aware of these things because of almost four years of training on the subject, and even so I would be quite nervous to actually put it into practice and raise of child of my own. Many moms do not know the importance of these building blocks, and for many, these simple interactions do not come naturally. So how do we help moms in our community turn this into the status quo of parenting? That is where Nurse Family Partnership (NFP) comes in. NFP is an evidence-based organization for first time expecting mothers. They provide education, empowerment, and access to resources in our community. They teach first time mothers the importance of things like talking to your baby. NFP provides ways for women to be the best mothers possible. To be eligible for this program you have to meet the basic requirements. This includes being a first-time mother (at any age), at or less than 28 weeks pregnant, and you must be a McLennan County resident.  If you know of any first-time mothers in McLennan County, have any other questions, or would like to volunteer, please feel free to contact the office at 254.202.1130.

Elizabeth Keomanikhoth (Pictured left) will be a senior at Baylor University. She is majoring in Child and Family Studies, and following a pre-medical track in hopes of pursuing pediatrics.

Claire Hutson (Pictured right) will be graduating from Baylor this August with a Bachelor’s degree in Public Health.  

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.

How our community is rallying around those returning from incarceration

By Jamie Schmitt

Everybody knows someone who has been affected by incarceration.  The goal of the McLennan County Reintegration Program is to make sure that individuals who have current or previous justice involvement are allowed to become the person they were truly meant to be!  The McLennan County Reintegration Program is a collaborative effort between the City of Waco and McLennan County in partnership with Heart of Texas Region MHMR. It provides transitional services to those currently in the county jail and those just released.  The assistance may start while the client is in jail, and often continues post release. Services focus on helping individuals successfully reintegrate into the community and avoid re-incarceration. Services include employment readiness, job search, locating housing, mental health counseling, addiction counseling, and various other support services.

Successful reintegration begins while individuals are still incarcerated.  By participating in the program while incarcerated, participants receive individual and group clinical services designed to holistically support the recovery process and achieve the self-sufficiency required to sustain a productive lifestyle free from involvement of illegal activities.

The Program has two phases: one while individuals are still incarcerated and another phase after the individuals are released. During our jail-based portion of the program, which begins in the McLennan County jail, individuals participate in an assessment, group and individual counseling along with pre-release planning to prepare for a stable reentry into the community.  Upon release, the program continues to work with the individuals to help prevent recidivism.  The program offers weekly groups and individual counseling sessions as the individuals attempt to re-establish and maintain their role as a family member, employee, student, parent, and community member.

Mentorship is an important part of successful reentry and studies show that it helps to prevent recidivism. The program has wonderful community partners who dedicate their time speaking with our clients in the McLennan County jail.  Our volunteers include Alcoholics Anonymous, Winner’s Circle and Narcotics Anonymous group members. Having these motivational speakers is an important part of the recovery process which builds positive relationships while in early recovery.  The relationships built continue to support clients well into the long-term recovery journey.

Click on the following links to read success stories of the Reintegration Program:

If you would like more information please contact Jamie Schmitt by phone or email 254-297-7706,

Jamie Schmitt, MSW, LCDC, PRSS-TOC has been counseling in the recovery field since 2003. With a passion to provide a true Recovery Oriented Systems of Care for all individuals and their supports, she co-founded Heart of Heart of Texas Region ROSC in 2011.  In 2017, Jamie was honored to receive the D. Frank Davis Professional and Community Outreach Award which is presented to individuals who have a demonstrated tenured dedication to the addiction profession while actively supporting the mission of recovery through their involvement in other key organizations. #RecoveryHappens

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.