Home Visiting Programs Improve the Odds of Success for Families in Oregon
A rich array of research points to evidence-based programs that can improve the odds of long-term success.
I’m a retired police captain and business owner. I know that business executives want contented, educated, emotionally secure workers for their companies, and that law enforcement professionals want children to live happy, successful lives so they don’t turn to criminal activity.
I’m a member of ReadyNation, whose members are business leaders who support quality, affordable early childhood care and education to give kids (our nation’s future workforce) a solid start in life. I’m happy I live in Oregon, a state committed to creating a strong early childhood system. Business leaders are crucial voices in the fight for evidence-based early childhood programs that will help improve children’s lives and help Oregon strengthen its communities and economy.
A rich array of research points to evidence-based tools that can improve the odds of long-term success. In voluntary home visiting programs, for example, a trained professional provides priceless support and guidance to beginning parents, reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect, increase school readiness, and even steer young people clear of crime and other forms of illegal, reckless behavior.
Over almost 30 years,Oregon has taken ambitious steps in assembling a statewide home visiting system. In 1993, Oregon established a first of its kind statewide Healthy Families Oregon home visiting program and system accredited through Healthy Families America. More recently, in 2019, the state legislature took an additional unprecedented step by passing and starting to assemble a statewide universal home visiting program through Family Connects International, in which healthcare professionals conduct home visits one to three times shortly after the birth of a child. If needed, parents are referred to other services, including more intensive home visiting programs. For those parents needing and wanting more support, longer-term home visiting programs are available. Oregon was also able to build more of a universal home visiting system with the addition of federal Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) funds.
This is all good. Still, programs are vastly underfunded and progress is slow because of the pandemic and a shortage of the actual home visitors. Last week, Oregon Fight Crime: Invest in Kids released a new report praising our voluntary home visiting programs and their positive impact on identifying mental illness and reducing child abuse and domestic violence.
However, the report also spotlights serious structural limits in our systems for preparing people to serve as home visiting professionals and compensating them enough that they’ll stay in the profession. The report, Strengthening Oregon’s Home Visiting Workforce: A Powerful Way to Soar Above Crime, found that low pay and high worker turnover, fragmented professional development availability, shortages of individuals proficient in languages other than English, lack of racial and gender diversity, and other factors are hampering programs’ effectiveness.
“Evidence-based home visiting programs are a powerful way to foster positive parenting behaviors and support healthy development in young children to help them avoid crime in later life,” the report states. “Studies show that at-risk kids who participate in high-quality home visiting programs are more likely to display positive behaviors, and less likely to engage in crime as adults than children who do not receive such programs.” But, in order for this ambitious, historic project to gel, we need to make sure it is fully staffed, by building the workforce development structures to support it.
This is not a new problem. And it’s important to realize that strengthening Oregon workforce development to support voluntary home visiting would also improve our overall workforce development system. The first five years of life are essential to laying the foundation of many skills needed for 21st-century jobs. Children born with low birthweight and with fewer parental resources have poorer health, are more likely to struggle in school, and have lower earnings as adults.
Yet, just as the root of these challenges lies in the earliest years, so does the solution. Proven home visiting programs, which pair at-risk families with trained professionals who provide vital information and support, can help build the workforce our nation needs.
If we want today’s young people to be productive and successful, we must invest in kids early and consistently, from infancy to young adulthood. The research proves that investing in quality support for kids will help Oregon’s economy, and the quality of life of all.