Voluntary home visiting programs are a powerful tool to improve outcomes for at-risk children and families. Families enrolled in home visiting programs are visited by trained professionals on a regular basis who provide practical tips and information – as well as emotional support – on a range of issues, including maternal health, early learning, and improving parent-child interactions. Extensive evidence shows that home visiting programs can improve outcomes for families in many critical ways, including:
- Improved prenatal health;
- Strengthened family functioning;
- Reduced rates of child abuse, neglect, and maltreatment;
- Decreased dependence on social services; and
- Increased child literacy and school readiness.
Despite the promising evidence, only 11 percent of California’s families receive a home visit between pregnancy and their child’s third birthday.
Home visiting programs in California are administered at both the state and local levels, and include a range of national models backed by rigorous research and evaluations, and local models tailored to the needs of specific communities.
The California Home Visiting Program (CHVP), created by the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program (MIECHV) funds, administers home visiting in 21 counties using one of two evidence-based models: Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) and Healthy Families America (HFA). MIECHV offered California an opportunity to supplement current funding for home visiting programs, as well as benefit from the federally-funded evaluation. Congress recently approved a six-month extension to the MIECHV program, ensuring its continuation through March 2015 unless it acts again to extend the funding.
First 5 County Commissions provide the largest source of funding of home visiting programs. These commissions fund four national program models, including NFP and HFA. In addition, nineteen counties have created their own models of home visiting programs that cater to the specific needs of their population.
California currently does not contribute general fund dollars to the federally-funded California Home Visiting Program, which is limited in its ability to reach a significant percentage of families with newborns at risk. Its infrastructure has been built and can be scaled up, and the state should be looking ahead to the future of that program, whether Congress reauthorizes it or not. Given that the state is now out of its fiscal crisis, this is a critical moment to pass legislation that supports proven programs among vulnerable children.