Home Visiting and Early Learning Support a Stronger Indiana
Prosecuting Attorney Thomas Clowers shares how evidence-based early childhood programs can strengthen Indiana families
As the Prosecuting Attorney for Posey County, Indiana, I know from experience and research that reducing crime starts with preventative measures that put children and families on a path towards success. And with April being National Child Abuse Prevention Month, it’s time to highlight the importance of investing in programs that reduce cases of abuse and neglect and that strengthen families in the long term.
In 2021, there were 21,556 child victims in Indiana, or children for whom the state verified at least one maltreatment incident. Of those child victims, 5,065 were less than one year old. While these numbers are devastating, it’s important to understand that child maltreatment is a symptom of strained families who don’t have access to the resources and supports they need from their community.
But there are evidence-based programs out there that can reduce cases of child abuse and neglect, especially when they intervene early in a child’s life. These include voluntary home visiting programs and accessible, affordable child care.
Home visiting programs are voluntary, evidence-based programs that connect trained professionals like nurses, parent educators, or social workers with parents to offer support from pregnancy through the early years of a child’s life. This coaching helps families avoid harmful parenting practices that can lead to child maltreatment and long-term developmental issues. The longest running home visiting study demonstrated that, by age 15, children in the program had half as many verified incidents of maltreatment as children who didn’t participate. The program also reduced later criminal behavior in both the children and their mothers.
However, only about 11,650 Hoosier families receive services through home visiting—only about 15 percent of high-needs families. Even though federal funds through the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program were increased last year, that money still won’t be enough to reach all families who need support. That’s why Indiana must contribute more state funds to these vital programs.
Early childhood education
Another way to lessen the emotional and financial stress families face is to make affordable, high-quality child care more accessible to all. High-quality child care is a huge support to parents, allowing them to go to work and provide for their families. But 55 percent of Hoosier families live in a child care desert, where there are at least three children for every licensed child care slot. When families can find care, it’s very expensive. But continuing to sustain programs that grant vouchers to low-income families helps to remove the barriers many families face in finding high-quality child care. These programs increase access and decrease cost, and thereby help more families get to work knowing their child is safely cared for.
Let’s invest in kids now to reduce crime in the future.
Child maltreatment can have serious, long-lasting implications for the wellbeing of children. Maltreated children can be two-to-six times more likely to engage in criminality in young adulthood compared to those who have not experienced maltreatment. As law enforcement leaders, we’re often the ones asked to deal with situations that could have been prevented. Preventing abuse and neglect through home visiting and strengthening families with high-quality child care can help Hoosier families today and set kids on a path to success.