What is Home Visiting?
Home visiting is a prevention strategy used to support pregnant moms and new parents to promote infant and child health, foster educational development and school readiness, and help prevent child abuse and neglect. Across the country, high-quality home visiting programs offer vital support to parents as they deal with the challenges of raising babies and young children. Participation in these programs is voluntary and families may choose to opt out whenever they want. Home visitors may be trained nurses, social workers or child development specialists. Their visits focus on linking pregnant women with prenatal care, promoting strong parent-child attachment, and coaching parents on learning activities that foster their child’s development and supporting parents’ role as their child’s first and most important teacher. Home visitors also conduct regular screenings to help parents identify possible health and developmental issues.
Legislators can play an important role in establishing effective home visiting policy in their states through legislation that can ensure that the state is investing in evidence-based home visiting models that demonstrate effectiveness, ensure accountability and address quality improvement measures. State legislation can also address home visiting as a critical component in states’ comprehensive early childhood systems.
What Does the Research Say?
Decades of research in neurobiology underscores the importance of children’s early experiences in laying the foundation for their growing brains. The quality of these early experiences shape brain development which impacts future social, cognitive and emotional competence. This research points to the value of parenting during a child’s early years. High-quality home visiting programs can improve outcomes for children and families, particularly those that face added challenges such as teen or single parenthood, maternal depression and lack of social and financial supports.
Rigorous evaluation of high-quality home visiting programs has also shown positive impact on reducing incidences of child abuse and neglect, improvement in birth outcomes such as decreased pre-term births and low-birthweight babies, improved school readiness for children and increased high school graduation rates for mothers participating in the program. Cost-benefit analyses show that high quality home visiting programs offer returns on investment ranging from $1.75 to $5.70 for every dollar spent due to reduced costs of child protection, K-12 special education and grade retention, and criminal justice expenses.
Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Grant Program
The federal home visiting initiative, the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, started in 2010 as a provision within the Affordable Care Act, provides states with substantial resources for home visiting. The law appropriated $1.5 billion in funding over the first five years (from FYs 2010-2014) of the program, with continued funding extensions through 2016. In FY 2016, forty-nine states and the District of Columbia, four territories and five non-profit organizations were awarded $344 million. The MIECHV program was reauthorized under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act through September 30, 2017 with appropriations of $400 million for each of the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-123) included new MIECHV funding. MIECH was reauthorized for five years at $400 million and includes a new financing model for states. The new model authorizes states to use up to 25% of their grant funds to enter into public-private partnerships called pay-for-success agreements. This financing model requires states to pay only if the private partner delivers improved outcomes. The bill also requires improved state-federal data exchange standards and statewide needs assessments. MIECHV is up for reauthorization, set to expire on Sept. 30, 2022.
The MIECHV program emphasizes that 75% of the federal funding must go to evidence-based home visiting models, meaning that funding must go to programs that have been verified as having a strong research basis. To date, 19 models have met this standard. Twenty-five percent of funds can be used to implement and rigorously evaluate models considered to be promising or innovative approaches. These evaluations will add to the research base for effective home visiting programs. In addition, the MIECVH program includes a strong accountability component requiring states to achieve identified benchmarks and outcomes. States must show improvement in the following areas: maternal and newborn health, childhood injury or maltreatment and reduced emergency room visits, school readiness and achievement, crime or domestic violence, and coordination with community resources and support. Programs are being measured and evaluated at the state and federal levels to ensure that the program is being implemented and operated effectively and is achieving desired outcomes.
With the passage of the MIECHV program governors designated state agencies to receive and administer the federal home visiting funds. These designated state leads provide a useful entry point for legislators who want to engage their state’s home visiting programs.