Children Now Insider: Voluntary Evidence-Based Home Visiting

For new parents, the right support, at the right time, can make a world of difference

By Angela Rothermel
Director, Early Childhood

November 4, 2019

Children Now® Insider: Stories, News, And Insights On Children’s Advocacy

For more information on our blog, contact Adrienne Bell at abell@childrennow.org

Anyone who has had the responsibility of caring for a newborn or very young child can agree on one thing: it’s not easy.

Family circumstances vary drastically across the state, but the challenge of parenting babies and toddlers is nearly universal. And we know now that the prenatal to three period not only means high physical and emotional demands on caregivers, it’s also an extraordinarily critical window of time to nurture the formation of foundational architecture in the brain that sets the stage for a child’s lifelong health, learning and well-being.

Now, consider what this means for the 62 percent of California babies that are born into low-income families, or the one in six California babies born to a mother who did not graduate high school. Or the 25 percent of parents of young children who report experiencing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) when they themselves were children?

Where do families go when they need help or information? What do parents do when they don’t have the support or the resources they need? What if no one believed in them in the past; will there be anyone to encourage them or tell them that they are doing a good job now?

Voluntary evidence-based home visiting programs offer ongoing, individualized support to families during critical points in pregnancy and through a child’s first year(s) of life by matching new and expectant parents with caring, trained professionals.

Home visitors are social workers, registered nurses, or parent educators formally trained in a particular home visiting program model. Home visitors work with families on a regular basis, often beginning during pregnancy or shortly after the birth of a child, and continuing for the next several years. Visits typically last an hour, and range in frequency from weekly to monthly depending on the program guidelines. Programs are free of charge, and families who participate are in the driver’s seat—they set the pace, their personal goals, and focus their home visit on their own interests and questions. Home visitors offer parenting advice, coach parents toward their goals, and assist families in securing needed health screenings and safety-net resources.

Voluntary, evidence-based home visiting programs are backed by decades of research that shows they are cost-effective and positively impact families in myriad ways. In fact, evidence-based home visiting boosts both parents and children by supporting children’s health and learning; promoting healthy family relationships; promoting family economic self-sufficiency; preventing child abuse and neglect; and much more.

Parents who participate in home visiting programs say:

“It has helped me with emotional support. The home visitor [gives me] advice [about how] to take care of my baby, and motivates me to attend my appointments and go to school.”

“I don’t feel alone anymore. When I was pregnant, I felt alone and didn’t know what was going on with my body—my nurse has supported me and continues to do this, so I don’t feel alone.”

 “It has made my fiancé more aware of things and how to deal with and take care of the baby. And it has made him a more excited and better father.”

Sound great? It really is. For years, more than 30 states have invested state funds directly in voluntary evidence-based home visiting programs. In California though, home visiting was available to families via a patchwork of federal and locally funded programs through Early Head Start, First 5 commissions, county governments, and non-profit organizations.

However, after years of educating and engaging key stakeholders in Sacramento, we are thrilled that the California state budget now includes funding for voluntary, evidence-based home visiting programs! In 2018, the state set aside $158.5 million over three years for home visiting within the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) program. In 2019, Governor Newsom’s first budget included unprecedented investment in voluntary evidence-based home visiting – an increase of more than $100 million from the previous budget – that will bring home visiting to an estimated 20,000 additional families in 44 counties.

We still have a long way to go. Even with these new investments, voluntary evidence-based home visiting currently reaches only an estimated two percent of California families with babies and toddlers, even though as many as 60 percent of families would likely be eligible and benefit positively from participating.

I began my career in early childhood as a home visitor. I believe wholeheartedly in these programs because I have seen firsthand how transformative and empowering home visiting can be for families. Ensuring a bright future for California means that today, we must address the complex challenges that so many families across the state face, especially when their children are very young. For many, individualized ongoing supports like home visiting can make a world of difference.

For more information on voluntary evidence-based home visiting in California please download Children Now’s two-page issue brief.

For stories from real California families please visit HomeStory: Stories from the California Home Visiting Program.