On March 1st, Parents as Teachers (PAT) National Center and the First Five Years Fund hosted “Home Visiting: An Equity Accelerator for Family Well-Being,” a virtual congressional briefing in support of the Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program. This program, administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) in collaboration with the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), works at the federal, state, and community levels to improve the health of at-risk children through evidence-based home visiting programs.
Early Edge California Executive Director and PAT National Center Board Member Patricia Lozano moderated the event. She welcomed Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) who spoke about the importance of home visiting to families nationwide. Senator Crapo expressed his support of PAT and other home visiting programs that have continued to work with families throughout the pandemic, “The support Parents as Teachers provides remains a key component to both the future of our children and of our nation. The COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted the need for support for at-risk families and mothers. As ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, I will continue to support policies that provide for American families, including home visiting programs.” Senator Menendez also praised the work of home visitors as an essential service to families by saying, “Each and every one of us comes into this world with limitless potential and possibilities, but we don’t all have access to the resources needed to achieve our potential and that’s something we need to change. Meeting people where they are with targeted, culturally-appropriate assistance is critical, as is providing resources to train and support home visitors so that they have the tools to engage with the most vulnerable of our families.”
Patricia then led a discussion panel addressing the critical support home visiting provides to young children and their families. Panelists included Natosha Robinson, community member and parent enrolled in PAT at the Mable Morris Family Program in Philadelphia, Sarah Rittling, JD, Executive Director, First Five Years Fund, and Jamie A. Singleton, MD, FAAP, Chief of Pediatrics, Beaufort Jasper Hampton Comprehensive Health Services.
Evidence-based home visiting programs, such as PAT, serve under-resourced families in all 50 states, American Indian and Alaska Native communities, and the U.S. territories. Dr. Singleton shared about her experience working with PAT to support her patients, “It is home visiting programs like PAT that make the difference in a family’s life that I could never make as their doctor. I would have never been able to get mom to understand the importance of early childhood learning and development nor change the negative social determinants of health that the parent educator did, in the 15 minutes I spend with a patient every two to three months. This is what PAT is doing–they are ‘boots on the ground’–changing lives, one child, one patient, one family, at a time.”
Home visiting services provide support to pregnant and parenting families with young children and work to tackle health and other inequities that families face. Dr. Singleton pointed out that it can feel awkward or uncomfortable at first for parents to open their lives to a home visitor, but that the benefits of these services are powerful, “We’re not coming into your homes to tell you what to do…we’re just trying to help. I think that’s something the public should understand, too…This is all about us trying to help you be a better you.” Parent Natosha Robinson echoed the doctor’s sentiment, “I was a daycare teacher and I [still] learned so much through this program. To have that support and know that somebody’s got my back in this. I’m not in this by myself. So, it’s a really great experience.”
The MIECHV program, which is set for renewal in September, has successfully supported home visiting services across the country for 10 years. Panelists made a case for the renewal and expansion of the program to serve more families. As Sara Rittling pointed out, 150,000 families currently benefit from home visiting and so many more could and should be served; she noted the strong bipartisan support the program has always had and that, “82% of voters support expanding funding for voluntary home visiting programs.” This year, proponents of the MIECHV are asking Congress to support an increase to funding to reach more families and better support the workforce; to complete reauthorization by September 30th to avoid a lapse in services and to renew for another five years to prevent program disruption for families; to double the amount of funds set aside to support tribal communities; and to continue virtual home visiting with model fidelity as an option for service delivery.