Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children
Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Federally funded home visiting programs have gotten a vote of confidence from a recent report.

Unfortunately, funding for this important program is being held up in Congress.

“The federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting, or MIECHV, program has supported high-risk families in communities across the country through intensive home visiting services since 2010,” according to the report, “An Investment in Our Future: How Federal Home Visiting Funding Provides Critical Support for Parents and Children.”

Released by CLASP (the Center for Law and Social Policy) and the Center for American Progress, the report is based on interviews with officials from 20 states and two tribal organizations.

Support from the States

The program has widespread local support, as a recent op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune shows:

“Sometimes it can be easy to forget there are such pressing needs in Utah… Our business community, economy, and government regularly receive national recognition for their well-deserved successes,” writes Kirk L. Jowers, the University of Utah’s Director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics. 

“Yet our state faces serious challenges. Each year, about 27,000 women in Utah do not receive prenatal care during the critical first trimester. In 2013, 49,000 children under the age of five lived in poverty. Around 27,000 children under the age of five do not have any sort of health care. There are other alarming statistics, including Utah’s low rates of young children enrolled in preschool, the high rates of low-income women with no insurance.”

Fortunately, Jowers says, Utah first began piloting home visiting programs “in several counties in 2008. The initiative was expanded in 2010 when Congress allocated additional funding for federal home visiting.”

In Kentucky, in a Lexington Herald-Leader op-ed, business owner Bill Garmer writes:

“Two generations. One solution.

“That’s a simple way to explain the value of voluntary home-visiting programs that help both children and their parents lead healthier and more successful lives. As a business executive, I understand that strategic investments in children can help promote workforce development and economic growth both now and in the future.”

“In Kentucky, young, at-risk mothers and fathers who participate in Kentucky’s Health Access Nurturing Development Services, called HANDS, are mentored by nurses or other trained professionals. They help parents understand their child’s physical and emotional needs, the importance of a safe home environment, and how to cope with stressful parenting challenges.”

Evidence of Success 

The MIECHV’s program has a range of accomplishments, the CLASP report notes, including:

• an expansion of services

• increased retention of staff and of families participating in the program

• systemic training, technical assistance, and professional development for the home visiting workforce

• the development of data systems that meet federal requirements and make data collection and analysis more efficient, and,

• expanded use of evidence-based models and evaluation methods

The report also points to key challenges, noting:

“Grantees identify the rapid timeline for development and implementation as a significant challenge, along with the burden of tracking and reporting on the required benchmark data. Finally, the sustainability of the program is of particular concern and has inhibited some grantees from planning for the long term.”

Waiting for Congressional Action

Despite the program’s success, “Congress has delayed the program’s reauthorization, and MIECHV is set to expire on March 31st,” New America says on its Ed Central blog. “Advocates have taken to Twitter to encourage people to reach out to Congressional leaders and let them know how important funding for home visiting is.”

The White House has thrown its support behind the program.

President Obama “signaled his continued support for the program, when he requested $500 million for the expansion and extension of MIECHV in his fiscal year 2016 budget proposal,” an Ed Central blog post says.

And George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton are just two of the many bipartisan supporters of home visiting programs, according to the Brookings Institution, a Washington, DC, think tank.

Now it’s up to Congress to invest wisely and build on what works.

Reach out to your elected officials through social media using the hashtags #homevisiting and #MIECHV, and let them know how powerful and important it is for the country to invest in new parents and their babies.