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Rural Health Information Hub

Good Beginnings of Central Vermont

  • Project Title: Postpartum Angel Family Support Program
  • Program Representative Interviewed: Gretchen Elias, Executive Director
  • Location: Washington County, Vermont
  • Program Overview: Good Beginnings is unique in that it serves all families with newborns, with no eligibility requirements or insurance limitations on the number of visits provided. Volunteers are a safe, stigma-free avenue for families who may be struggling to make a first connection to community services, peer support groups, and other resources. Of the roughly 100 families served each year, two-thirds are low-income and nearly half have at least one other risk factor for postpartum depression. The families most likely to benefit from a Postpartum Angel volunteer include families in rural communities far from town centers, young or first-time parents, families with twins, parents with a history of mental health issues, or parents struggling with other challenges related to poverty or financial hardship. For some families, a Good Beginnings volunteer may be the only support service welcomed into their homes during this period.

    Program volunteers have different backgrounds and may include doulas and therapists, retired professionals, and parents who participated in the program previously. All volunteers undergo a background check and attend a 2-hour orientation. A program director is available for support whenever volunteers have questions, and the program offers regular refresher trainings on topics such as newborn care, soothing techniques, and breastfeeding. They are trained to recognize postpartum mood disorders and will also connect women and families with treatment, support, and resources.

    Volunteers are a source of adult companionship and a sympathetic ear during a particularly isolating time in the parenting journey. Volunteers may also hold the baby while mom showers or naps, prepare a simple meal, help with light household chores such as folding laundry, or spend a little one-on-one time with an older sibling to allow mom to bond with her baby. They often provide informal mentoring to first-time parents on topics including soothing a colicky infant or bathing their infant, and are prepared to help families connect to other resources in the community.

    In feedback surveys, families consistently report that having a Postpartum Angel was an important part of their overall postpartum support system and helped them feel more connected to their community. The term “lifesaver” comes up regularly when families describe what the program means to them.

Models represented by this program: