My experience as a child and as a mother shows me how important and valuable the home visiting program is. Alisha Burch

Initially, Burch thought she would grow up to become an elementary school teacher. Two and a half years ago, she became a home visitor.

“My experience as a child and as a mother shows me how important and valuable the home visiting program is,” Burch said.

In the voluntary, free home visiting program, Burch works with families in weekly visits during the first six months after birth of a child to provide valuable information, support, and services in the home to ensure that newborns get the best start in life. Mothers who are pregnant and plan to deliver at one of 14 participating Welcome Baby hospitals in Los Angeles County may qualify for a home visiting program. First 5 LA funds Welcome Baby and Select Home Visiting programs like HFA.

During home visits, Burch meets with families to provide information and support in areas such as:

  • Knowing the best way to care for yourself and your baby
  • Important nutrition information
  • Helping create a safe “baby-proof” home
  • Recognizing a baby’s needs
  • Discovering what to expect as a child grows
  • Ways to play with a baby to encourage development;
  • Developmental screenings
  • Helping families work on life goals

“Like A Second Mom”

The work can be challenging from the moment Burch walks through a client’s front door.

“We are dealing with individuals that are struggling to maintain the basic needs of their home, managing their finances, dealing with violence and mental health issues,” Burch said. “So for them it’s hard to focus on doing an activity or trying to hear us cover information about nurturing their baby when they have all these things they have to deal with. As a home visitor, I try my best to help my clients focus, by redirecting their attention and help them come up with methods on their own using their own strengths as examples to reduce their stress.”

"Just don’t think about the pain. Think about all the nutrients you are giving her." -Alisha Burch

Among her most challenging moments was during a home visit with a mother of newborns who would not stop crying. Burch gently reminded the mom that her babies needed touch and affection to help them regulate their heightened state of emotion. Finally, the mother picked her babies up and disappeared with them into another room. She returned a few moments later without the infants . . . who were left crying in the other room.

“The cries of the babies were so heartbreaking and I had to sit there and validate the mom’s feelings because she stated she was overwhelmed and tired and couldn’t take it anymore,” Burch recalled. “I worked with the mom later on by using the curriculum to discuss the effects of toxic stress and the importance of responding to an infant’s cue. Also, I reminded the mom about the positive changes in the babies’ behavior when she responds appropriately.”

But the most difficult challenge as a home visitor, Burch said, “is the fact I’m a mandated reporter and when I have to report on a family when safety is a concern. I’m highly affected by it, because being a child growing up in the foster care system was traumatic for me when I was taken away from my mother and home.”

Looking back on her own past with her mother, Burch said “if she had the support and resources that are provided today through the home visitation program, I may have never been introduced to the foster system, or she may have had an opportunity to be reunified with me and my sibling.”

This realization helps bolster Burch’s belief in helping parents and their babies through home visiting. Like Eniya Watson-Ali, 22, of Palmdale, who was facing a slew of challenges: her baby’s father left her four weeks into her pregnancy, she could not find a job and she was living with her mother.

And when her daughter Nielah was born last July, Watson-Ali initially said no to breastfeeding because everyone told her it was painful. But Burch and Watson-Ali’s mother encouraged her and though it was, indeed, painful for her, Watson-Ali powered through it with Burch’s support.

“She would say ‘Just don’t think about the pain. Think about all the nutrients you are giving her. She’s going to be real smart.’ So I kept going,” Watson-Ali recalled.

During Burch’s weekly Wednesday visits, Watson-Ali also learned about oral care for her daughter, how babies’ brains work, and the importance of reading to and playing games with her. And gradually but surely, Burch was helping Watson-Ali boost her own belief in herself.

When Watson-Ali wanted to find her own place, Burch served up a number of resources and plenty of encouragement. Watson-Ali and her daughter moved into a new home together in January.

“She helped me get my confidence back,” Watson-Ali said of Burch. “When I would get down, she told me to keep on going. She’s a supportive person. She won’t let me fail at anything. She’s like a second mom to me. ”

As someone who was removed from her own mother, these words carry a lot of weight with Burch.

“It truly touches my heart to have a client view me as a second mom,” Burch said. “I want my clients to understand that the circumstances they face in life don’t ultimately determine their future.”