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 (State-by-state funding.) 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 percent 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.
The MIECHV program emphasizes that seventy-five percent 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, 18 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.
Advancing State Policy
Evidence-based home visiting can achieve positive outcomes for children and families while creating long-term savings for states.
With the enactment of the MIECHV grant program, state legislatures have played a key role by financing programs and advancing legislation that helps coordinate the variety of state home visiting programs as well as strengthening the quality and accountability of those programs.
During the 2016 legislative session Rhode Island lawmakers passed the Rhode Island Home Visiting Act (HB 7034) that requires the Department of Health to coordinate the system of early childhood home visiting services; implement a statewide home visiting system that uses evidence-based models proven to improve child and family outcomes; and implement a system to identify and refer families before the child is born or as early after the birth of a child as possible.
In 2013 Texas lawmakers passed the Voluntary Home Visiting Program (SB 426) for pregnant women and families with children under age 6. The bill also established the definitions of and funding for evidence-based and promising programs (75 percent and 25 percent, respectively).
Arkansas lawmakers passed SB 491 (2013) that required the state to implement statewide, voluntary home visiting services to promote prenatal care and healthy births; to use at least 90 percent of funding toward evidence-based and promising practice models; and to develop protocols for sharing and reporting program data and a uniform contract for providers.
View a list of significant enacted home visiting legislation from 2008-2018. You can also visit NCSL’s early care and education database which contains introduced and enacted home visiting legislation for all fifty states and the District of Columbia.State officials face difficult decisions about how to use limited funding to support vulnerable children and families.
Key Questions to Consider
State officials face difficult decisions about how to use limited funding to support vulnerable children and families and how to ensure programs achieve desired results. Evidence-based home visiting programs have the potential to achieve important short- and long-term outcomes.
Several key policy areas are particularly appropriate for legislative consideration:
- Goal-Setting: What are they key outcomes a state seeks to achieve with its home visiting programs? Examples include improving maternal and child health, increasing school readiness and/or reducing child abuse and neglect.
- Evidence-based Home Visiting: Have funded programs demonstrated that they delivered high-quality services and measureable results? Does the state have the capacity to collect data and measure program outcomes? Is the system capable of linking data systems across public health, human services, and education to measure and track short and long-term outcomes?
- Accountability: Do home visiting programs report data on outcomes for families who participate in their programs? Do state and program officials use data to improve the quality and impact of services?
- Effective Governance and Coordination: Do state officials coordinate all their home visiting programs as well as connect them with other early childhood efforts such as preschool, child care, health and mental health?
- Sustainability: Shifts in federal funding make it likely that states will have to maintain programs with state funding. Does the state have the capacity to maintain the program? Does the state have the information necessary to make difficult funding decisions to make sure limited resources are spent in the most effective way?