It truly takes a village to raise a child.

During BYU’s 16th Annual Marjorie Pay Hinckley Lecture, Dr. Kenneth Dodge shared that “one of the most frightening days of my life” was when he brought home his oldest son from the hospital. Dodge said he and his wife were so unprepared for parenthood that on the drive home from the hospital they realized they needed to stop at Walmart because they had forgotten to purchase diapers.

As the William McDougall Professor of Public Policy and a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, Dodge encouraged parents to think of the time when they needed the most financial and emotional support. For most parents, it’s when they have a newborn.

Throughout his professional career, Dodge said the most important thing he has learned is how to ask for help.

“The way to be competent is to learn to ask for help and this message needs to be applied to mothers and fathers who have given birth.”

According to Dodge, society assumes parents can do it on their own, when in reality every family is vulnerable at the time of birth regardless of socio-economic circumstances. Because of the assumption that parents can do it alone, the youngest children in society are not faring well. The U.S. ranks fourth from the worst in young child mortality among all 35 developed nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, just ahead of Turkey, Chile and Mexico.

In 2001, Dodge was the founding director of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy when the university endowment challenged Dodge to reduce community levels of child maltreatment in Durham County, North Carolina.

Over the next decade, Dodge and a team of researchers developed Family Connects International, a system of care that reaches out to every family giving birth within a specific community. The three-step program focuses on local nurses connecting with families to assess needs, then connects families with community resources, so parents can connect with their infant.

Family Connects provides between one and three nurse home visits to every family with a newborn beginning at about three weeks of age, through eight weeks of age. The professional help for parents is especially important for single-parent homes, those with limited financial resources and limited extended family support but most importantly, this program provides help for those who may be hesitant to ask.

Currently, national spending on children ages 6-18 far exceeds the dollars spent on children 0-5. This program is striving to support mothers and fathers during the vulnerable time of newborn care. The benefit-cost analysis of Family Connects indicated that a community can save $3.17 for each dollar spent on the program.

Family Connects research reports that families who participated in the program suffered less maternal anxiety and depression, had reduced emergency medical care for infants and fewer child protective services investigations. This program is currently being implemented in 12 states across the nation.