Many Washington families are facing challenges that make parenting difficult and stressful, and too few have access to the resources they need to raise healthy children.
That’s the conclusion of the state’s new report on early childhood home visiting programs. This home visiting needs assessment is a major milestone in Washington’s application for new home visiting funds – funds made possible through the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program established under the federal health care reform law passed this spring.
Home visiting programs connect new and expectant parents with trained professionals who visit the family's home on a regular basis. Home visitors teach parenting skills, provide information on health and developmental benchmarks, and help parents learn to provide a stable, stimulating environment and become their child’s first teacher and advocate. Many programs have shown tremendous results in decreasing rates of child abuse and neglect, increasing cognitive skills related to school readiness, and improving parenting skills.
Overall, the needs assessment found that 32 out of 57 geographic areas studied in Washington were identified as “at-risk,” meaning they have higher rates of premature births, low birth weight infants and infant mortality, poverty, crime, domestic violence, high school dropouts, substance abuse, unemployment, and/or child maltreatment than the statewide average – and could therefore benefit greatly from access to home visiting services.
The needs assessment also highlights that statewide, only 11 percent of eligible families are likely being served by the highest-quality home visiting programs.
Researchers went a step further in defining “at-risk” communities by looking at how different racial or ethnic groups experience poverty, infant mortality, and other risk factors. This analysis found that Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Natives face some of the highest rates of infant mortality, poverty, and high school dropouts in the state, and overall, families of color face higher rates of almost all risk factors that can make parenting more stressful.
The report, as a whole, is an unprecedented step forward in gaining data on where home visiting programs are available, and how many families are able to access this crucial support. In the months to come, both advocates and communities will use this data to continue the conversation about the need for home visiting and the challenges that vulnerable families face in different areas across our state.
As the last step in the application process for federal home visiting funds, this fall the Department of Early Learning will lead state officials, stakeholders and field experts to develop a plan on how any awarded funds will serve vulnerable communities.
With a possible $800,000 coming to Washington state this year and more funds to be awarded competitively over the next five years, we’ll be pushing the state to consider how this new funding stream can extend services to the communities most in need of home visiting.