Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell recently announced the latest round of competitive and formula grant awards that will support states, territories, and nonprofit organizations in their implementation of home visiting programs. These, fiscal year 2015 investments, amount to $386 million. The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program has a proven record of success for supporting families throughout the country. But, there is one problem: Congress has delayed the program’s reauthorization, and MIECHV is set to expire on March 31st. 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.
— CAP Early Childhood (@CAPEarlyEd) March 3, 2015
Established by Congress in 2010, MIECHV has supported pregnant women and at-risk families with children from birth through five in diverse communities nationwide. Through home visiting, families are visited by trained professionals such as social workers, nurses, and parent educators. Parents receive intensive coaching on the best ways to promote their child’s healthy development through the creation of a positive and nurturing environment.
My colleague, Shayna Cook, reported on a signal of support from the President– he requested $500 million for the expansion and extension of MIECHV in his fiscal year 2016 budget proposal. However, bipartisan support in the Congress is needed to achieve reauthorization.
A new report released by The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and the Center for American Program (CAP), documenting states’ use of federal funding for home visiting programs, provides greater leverage for advocacy organizations in their quest to move Congress towards long-term program sustainability — or at least further extension of the program.
Based on the report, numerous states found that expansion of the home visiting program led to better health and development outcomes for children and parents. States that already had home visiting services in place were able to invest more resources in those programs, and also expand the creation of programs within new communities. For instance, both Iowa and New Jersey have used funds to extend home visiting services to every county in their respective states. And through Utah’s federal refugee resettlement program, the state has been able to expand services to tribal communities — a population that was often overlooked prior to MIECHV’s implementation.
In Louisiana, MIECHV administrators worked with the state’s Early Childhood Advisory Council to move beyond catering solely to first-time mothers. The state decided to implement the national Parents as Teachers (PAT) model through home visiting. PAT helps organizations and professionals work with parents during the early years of their children’s lives. The program’s goal is to help parents realize their capacity to aid in their children’s developmental growth towards academic success, and sustain that potential once their children begin school.
Many grantees are also using funds to fully implement a more comprehensive and holistic approach to supporting children and families. (Here at New America we consider this approach to follow the framing of our Family-Centered Social Policy Initiative.) In New Jersey, for example, state officials have integrated home visiting with other early childhood and family support services, creating partnerships that have been beneficial towards overcoming bureaucratic challenges. Through collaborative relationships among community service agencies, families are more easily connected to services catered to their specific needs.
Home visiting programs have existed for decades, becoming a proven success for mobilizing at-risk children and families to better outcomes. As the CLASP and CAP report shows, over the past five years federal MIECHV funding has been a prominent asset for states. The push for Congress is within the evidence; as a social policy initiative, MIECHV has successfully aided in creating a strong foundation for state home visiting programs. States have proven the beneficial use and need of federal investments: linking families to various community resources, collaboration across state lines on both successful and failed program implementations, and expansion of home visiting programs to underserved communities.
Without certainty of funding, states can only hope to surpass, let alone maintain, current success levels. Will Congress see the positive effects of MIECHV funding, and rule for permanent implementation of the initiative? Or will states be left to try their sole hand at successfully serving various families in need of home visiting services?