OP-ED: Home visiting matters every minute— Congress must act

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids leaders from across the country join to encourage Congress to support parental engagement by reauthorizing MIECHV

 Michael Ramos is District Attorney of San Bernardino County, CA

Michael Ramos is District Attorney of San Bernardino County, CA

Every minute of every year, somewhere in America, a child is abused or neglected.

The three of us have law-enforcement careers spanning decades, and, for each of us, some of our most harrowing, disturbing, and heartbreaking moments have been the minutes we spent trying to do whatever we could to piece together the shattered lives of children who have been abused or neglected.

We cannot overstate the devastation that child abuse and neglect leaves in its terrible wake. Lingering, long-term scars become part of a child’s life. Their suffering goes on long after the abuse ends and many never heal.

Only innovative solutions can combat this agonizing reality head-on and change children’s futures. One of the most effective ways to cut child abuse and neglect is through voluntary home visiting, which is why we are all dedicated supporters of the program.

The children most at-risk for experiencing abuse and neglect are in disadvantaged families and are three-years-old or younger. A study cited by the law enforcement organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids shows children who experience abuse or neglect may be twice as likely to commit a crime by age 19, compared to similar children who have not been abused or neglected.

Voluntary home visiting programs offers young, at-risk parents the opportunity to pair with a trained professional who provides home-based coaching during pregnancy and infancy. The typical participant is a young mother under the age of 25 who is single, unemployed, and living in poverty.

Home visitors typically offer critical coaching, including advice on how to improve the health and safety of children while also inspiring young parents to set goals and pursue education and job training. Home visiting programs operate under the logic that parenting works. By providing short-term guidance, parents and young children have the opportunity to lay a solid foundation for long-term success.

The program benefits not only families, but communities, as well, with impactful economic gains.

More than three-quarters of American voters support voluntary home visiting programs that help first-time parents support their child’s early learning, health, and emotional development.

Mothers taking part in one Early Head Start home visiting program, for example, boosted their annual earnings by $3,600, following the program. Cost-benefit analyses of three of the most widespread federally-funded home visiting programs—Healthy Families America, Nurse-Family Partnership, and Parents as Teachers— found that high-quality home visiting can save $1 to $5 for every dollar invested, which equates to up to $6,000 over each child’s lifetime. A study of the Nurse-Family Partnership home visiting program found that the average family participating in home visiting reduced welfare use by $14,500 in the decade following their participation in the program, compared to families without home visiting.

When at-risk parents utilize resources available to them, entire communities benefit. The families become more fiscally independent and stable. Parents learn that they, in fact, are the ones driving their destinies.

Home visiting does so much, yet it could be threatened this fall.

The federal home visiting program, known as the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program (MIECHV,) is a cornerstone of evidence-based policy. It provides funding to states, territories and tribal entities for implementation of programs tailored to their communities’ individual needs.

Without federal funding, this life-changing program that has enjoys bipartisan support could be in jeopardy. In September of this year, MIECHV will come up for reauthorization by Congress. Without action, 145,500 at-risk parents and children could be removed from home visiting programs.

The public is behind the strategy.

More than three-quarters of American voters support providing voluntary home visiting and parent education programs that help first-time parents support their child’s early learning, health, and emotional development.

We are behind the strategy.

As law enforcement officials from across the country with a vested interest in in public safety and stable communities, we know that ,this critical funding needs to not only be not only maintained, but expanded, so that this evidence-based approach may continue to benefit communities, nationwide.

A program that helps reduce the distressing effects of child abuse and neglect while increasing public safety and fostering economic independence is invaluable. We know, home visiting is worth the investment.

Donald Ash is Sheriff of Wyandotte County, KS; Janeé Harteau is Chief of Police in Minneapolis, MN; and Michael Ramos is District Attorney of San Bernardino County, CA. All three are members the national law enforcement organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.