Developmental Care Celebrates 20 Years of Service

March 14, 2005

Contact: Jennifer Riordan 272-0261 office, 220-0702 cell; Bridgid Isworth 463-6044


While most parents celebrate the day they take their newborn baby home from the hospital, many families are not so fortunate. Every year in New Mexico, hundreds of babies are born too early or with significant medical complications that keep them in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the University of New Mexico Children's Hospital (UNMH) for days or weeks.   

Going down a path vastly different from the one they had anticipated, parents with a baby in the NICU find themselves faced with profound medical and developmental challenges. Often these challenges leave parents and family members feeling afraid and confused.

Fortunately, a unique program at the UNM Health Sciences Center

Pediatrics Newborn Division provides developmentally supportive care for infants and families in the NICU from birth through transitions to homes throughout New Mexico. Known as the Developmental Care Program, therapeutic staff works alongside NICU doctors and nurses to help families get to know their baby, and to teach parents how to support and enrich their baby's development in spite of preterm birth or critical illness.

Celebrating its 20th year of service, the UNM Developmental Care Program is the most comprehensive program of its kind based within a newborn nursery. Program staff includes occupational, speech, physical and family therapists along with early childhood development specialists. Dedicated to supporting infant developmental, emotional, medical and social needs, this program provides unique coordinated family-focused services that are not offered through other newborn programs.

When a baby is admitted into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, a therapist from the Developmental Care Program is assigned to the infant and his or her family. From the beginning, the therapist works closely with all family members to help them understand and cope with the NICU environment in order to be with and get to know their baby. Most importantly, Developmental Care staff helps families be families, despite the challenges of their baby's illness and the complex NICU environment.


The therapists, along with bedside nurses, teach family members special and safe ways to touch, hold, comfort and interact with their baby in spite of the medical equipment and wires. Families are taught how to support their fragile baby's physical, motor and social development along the way to recovery, rather than waiting until the baby develops problems that might have been avoided. The therapist also provides an important avenue for families to ask questions and to gain information about their baby's current and future development.

Another aspect of Developmental Care is the Family Liaison Program. Family Liaisons are parents whose children also began life in the UNM Children's Hospital NICU. The liaisons are trained to provide a special kind of support to parents since they have gone through similar experiences. In addition to meeting and talking with families individually, the family liaisons provide a weekly opportunity for families of all children hospitalized at UNM to gather together, share a meal and share their experiences in a supportive, caring environment. 

As discharge from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit approaches, Developmental Care Program staff works collaboratively with each family to design an individualized developmental follow-along plan. Plans are designed to match individual infant and family strengths and needs with services that will encourage the infant's development and well being.

A family may choose to receive continued developmental follow-along services at home with the same therapist through the Developmental Care Continuity Program. In addition, families statewide may choose to be connected with continuing services through their local New Mexico Department of Health Early Intervention Program or other local services, and Developmental Care staff help the family make these connections.

As another option, a family may choose to receive developmental follow-along services through the Developmental Care Program's Special Baby Clinic. Special Baby Clinic also is available for families and/or physicians statewide who have questions about growth and development of any infant who is under 12 months of age.

The Developmental Care Program is available to every infant admitted to the UNM NICU. This includes infants from throughout the state of New Mexico, as well as infants who are transported to UNM Children's Hospital for neonatal intensive care from neighboring states. Following discharge, Developmental Care staff remains available to all families to assure a seamless transition for the infant and family from hospital to home. Outpatient services also are available to all families of infants considered "at developmental risk". 


The mission of the Developmental Care Program is to promote and support optimal developmental and emotional health outcomes for infants born at risk and their families. 

Contact: Jennifer Riordan, 272-3322

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