Breaking the Cycle of Poverty: The Bright Start Nurse-Family Partnership

Posted on August 10, 2022

By Kathy Schneider, Nurse Supervisor

Note: This story was also published in Pigeon 605, a twice-weekly digital newsletter and website, and can be viewed here.

Being a mother for the first time can be an overwhelming experience.

That’s why the Bright Start Nurse-Family Partnership supports first-time mothers from pregnancy until the child’s second birthday.

Bright Start has been part of Children’s Home Society of South Dakota since 2007, serving Minnehaha, Turner, Lincoln and McCook counties. When a client enrolls in the program, she is connected to one of the Bright Start registered nurses, who will provide the support, guidance, and resources needed to have a healthy pregnancy, a healthy baby—and to become a great mom.

Evidence-Based Program

At Bright Start, we use a national, evidence-based curriculum to provide education and support in areas such as diet and nutrition during pregnancy, how to prepare for labor and delivery, breastfeeding, safe-sleep techniques, child development and much more.

Our nurses are specially trained to work with new mothers at a time when they are particularly vulnerable. Visiting with a nurse on a regular basis during this time can help a new mom feel reassured and more confident.

The key to the nurse-family model is the relationship between the nurse and the new mom. As the trust grows between the two, the nurse can help the client make good decisions with respect to overarching issues, such as domestic violence, substance abuse or mental health challenges.

In fact, Bright Start nurses help new moms with much more than just medical needs. The work we do really combinesthe roles of a case manager, teacher, counselor, mentor, friend and healthcare provider.

Breaking the Cycle

Poverty is often intergenerational. Studies nationwide have shown that reaching new moms—and essentially intervening during the first two years of a child’s life—has a powerful impact on the entire family. That’s why, at its heart, Bright Start is a prevention program.

By giving new mothers the tools they need to be self-sufficient, we are helping break the cycle of poverty. We assist our clients to:

• Set goals—and work to achieve them

This is a skill that some people haven’t learned. Yet setting and achieving goals, first with the help of a nurse, and then on one’s own, is a tremendous self-confidence builder. For example, if a client didn’t graduate from high school, the nurse can help her set a goal to earn her GED, support her in earning the GED and then look towards the next goal.

• Identify role models

Bright Start nurses ask new moms about the positive people they encountered as children and have them identify their positive traits and how they might incorporate those traits into their own lives. We have found that hearing themselves saying this out loud can be very powerful for our clients. We also ask about negative people in their lives and what traits they don’t want to carry on for their children.

• Navigate barriers, access resources

Many of the new moms we serve have social-economic disparities that become barriers to seeking what they need. It can be especially difficult for clients to navigate through those barriers when they’re in crisis mode. Bright Start nurses can help new moms access resources for a wide range of assistance—from financial to healthcare, educational, mental health, plus the basics—food, shelter and medicine.

We try to get resources in place for our clients that address some of the crisis situations they’re in. Then they may be able to get out of that “live-in-the-moment” situation and be able to think ahead. For example, we might have a client who is being evicted and her baby is due in a couple of weeks. She’s been missing work in her attempts to find housing and now she’s going to lose her job. Problems spiral, and the client goes into crisis mode, where it becomes hard to think. Our nurses are there to bridge that gap for them.

• Demonstrate advocacy and “adulting”

Some clients from disadvantaged backgrounds may be uncomfortable with speaking out on their own behalf or lack the skills or confidence to follow through on things that needs to be accomplished in order to move forward. For example, a nurse might go to an appointment with a client if she’s hesitant to do this on her own. A nurse might model how to talk to someone on the phone—something the client may become very anxious about doing that because she may feel like she’s being judged.

At Bright Start, we’re proud that we help new moms be the best person and mom they can be. Our role is to empower first-time moms to be independent, successful, happy parents and members of our community, while also helping their children to lead safe, productive lives.

We witness many of the results of our work immediately, such as seeing a new mom breastfeed, safety-proof her home when her child starts crawling or practice appropriate discipline. Other results, such as breaking the cycle of poverty, may take longer to appear. But there are many times former clients will share a picture from school graduation, or their child celebrating an achievement at school, or tell us they bought their first home. When this happens, we know Bright Start had a positive impact on that family and that we are making a difference.


Sioux Falls Bright Start 2021

  • Immunization up to date by 24 months: 100%
  • Initiated breast feeding: 91%
  • Received prenatal care: 100%
  • Graduated from Bright Start program: 35%
  • Low birth weight infant: 12.1%
  • Preterm births: 9%

National Nurse Family Partnerships 2021

  • Immunizations: 89.6%
  • Initiated breast feeding: 86%
  • Received prenatal care (no national data for this)
  • Graduated from NFP Program: 41.8%
  • Low birth weight infant: 12%
  • Preterm births: 11%

To learn more about Bright Start, visit