Home services

Proof Reveals That Dwelling Visits Assist Youngsters and Households. Right here’s What to Know.

While her daughter naps, Bridget Collins spends an hour reviewing and role-playing activities with her home visitor, Amanda Pedlar, in the front room of her house in San Antonio, Texas.

This week, the pair starts by discussing 3-year-old Brook’s burgeoning curiosity. Pedlar notes that it’s normal, at this stage of development, for Brook to ask “Why?” often, to want to try new things and to explore her environment. Then she gives Collins some suggestions for encouraging her daughter’s inquisitiveness.

Together, they work through an activity packet, covering topics such as language and motor skills. Collins will introduce these same activities to Brook in the coming days.

San Antonio HIPPY Home Visit
Bridget Collins, left, and home visitor Amanda Pedlar role-play washing their hands ahead of a “tasting party” where they will distinguish between sweet and crunchy foods. Photo by Emily Tate Sullivan.

When Pedlar and Collins role-play a “tasting party” — surrounded by stuffed toys and dolls, in the spirit of a tea party — and try to distinguish between foods that are sweet and those that are crunchy, Collins leans into the persona of her daughter, simulating the 3-year-old’s tendency to become distracted, to be silly and to interject with a defiant “no!”

It allows Pedlar the opportunity to model different reactions.

“It really helps to see her respond the way I should respond,” says Collins, who notes that she used to tell her kids “no” a lot but now sees a host of other ways to reply, such as with redirection.

Week after week, the activities help strengthen the bond between parent and child. Collins also says it’s boosted her confidence.

Kids are learning from their parents and caregivers from birth. But what they’re learning, and how they’re learning, varies widely. By connecting families with trained educators, home visiting programs give parents a chance to learn high-quality, developmentally appropriate activities to do with their kids and ask questions about their child’s needs and progress.

This year, EdSurge has been reporting on voluntary, evidence-based home visiting services and the difference they can make for children and families in the United States.

In one story, we examined how a home visiting program, Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY), is supporting immigrant families and connecting them to their communities. In another, we looked at how two long-running home visiting programs have adapted their models to serve home-based child care providers.

Over the past five months, we’ve observed home visits in two different states, attended a home visitor training and have spoken with more than 30 people to understand the home visiting landscape in this country and to see how these services support child development, improve school readiness, empower families and promote safe and healthy home learning environments.

Here are five key takeaways from our reporting:

1. Home visits do more than empower parents to be their child’s first and best teacher.

Home visits provide parents and caregivers with invaluable lessons and insights about their child’s learning and development. This can lead parents to become more confident teachers and more vocal advocates for their children. But the role of a home visitor extends beyond that.

“It’s almost equally … about helping our families find the proper resources to improve their lives and improve maternal mental health,” notes Pedlar, the home visitor in San Antonio. “Things as simple as helping a family find a food resource and taking that burden off their shoulders can be really helpful.”

Home visitors provide goods such as diapers and wipes. They can connect families to resources such as food pantries, domestic violence prevention and early childhood intervention. And they’re often alerting parents to family-friendly events in the community, such as free days at the zoo.

Many home visiting programs also offer regular group meetings to convene participating families. For families new to this country, those meetings can provide a rare opportunity to meet others who come from their home country or speak their native language.

“At the end of the day, when you really deconstruct home visiting, it is about relationships,” notes Mimi Aledo-Sandoval, senior policy director at Alliance for Early Success, a nonprofit that works with early childhood advocates across all 50 states.

2. Home visiting programs can be beneficial for every family, but for now, their reach is limited.

More than 17 million families nationwide, including 23 million children, stand to benefit from voluntary, evidence-based home visiting services, according to the National Home Visiting Resource Center. That is to say, every pregnant woman and family with a child under age 6 has something to gain from these regular, in-home services.

“Being a parent is hard. Being a new parent is hard. I think that’s true regardless of socioeconomic strata, regardless of where you live. It is a life-changing event,” says Dr. Michael Warren, associate administrator of the Maternal and Child Health Bureau at the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). “So it is helpful to be able to get resources and get assistance when you need help. Home visiting can help fill in those gaps.”

While home visits are proven to lead to positive outcomes for children and families, only some have access to these programs, due to lack of funding. In 2022, only about 270,000 families (about 1.6 percent of those eligible) received home visiting services.

With limited funding, many communities deploy home visiting programs for specific populations, such as low-income families, single-parent households, recent immigrants and refugee families, families experiencing homelessness and those with a history of substance abuse.

3. The U.S. government invests in home visiting programs, and funding is set to expand.

Many home visiting programs have been around for decades. Historically, they’d received state and local funds, as well as money from private foundations, says Sarah Crowne, senior research scientist at Child Trends, a nonprofit research center focused on children and families.

Then, in 2010, the federal government invested in home visiting programs for the first time with the creation of the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program. “It was a game changer for states,” Crowne says.

To access those federal funds, states must work with one of the 24 home visiting programs that have met HHS criteria for evidence of effectiveness.

“It’s very rigorous,” Crowne adds. “It’s not just that any program can get these funds.”

Before Congress reauthorized MIECHV in 2022, the program was funded at $400 million annually. Now, under a new funding formula, that allotment will double to $800 million annually by 2027. Starting this year, the federal government will match $3 for every $1 in non-federal funds spent on home visiting programs, up to a certain amount.

“It really opens that door wide for [states], and it allows them to expand into communities where they know there is need but they have not been able to serve those communities to date,” says Warren, whose department oversees MIECHV.

“It really is exciting,” he adds. “There has not been an opportunity like this in the recent past to be able to do this kind of expansion for home visiting services.”

4. Home visits are not a replacement for early childhood education, but they can help establish a solid foundation.

In a world where every family has access to high-quality early childhood education for their children, home visits would be a complementary support.

“In some countries, that is what happens,” says Miriam Westheimer, chief program officer for HIPPY International. “In this country, given very limited resources, that’s rare.” More often, in the U.S., children are either attending an early childhood program, or families are receiving home visits, she says. “It should not be one or the other,” Westheimer adds. “It often is.”

No one is arguing that home visits should be a child’s only outside learning experience before school, but with early care and education inaccessible and unaffordable for many families, that may be their only option.

In such cases, research has shown that home visits can give children a solid foundation from which to build as they begin school. Home visits help them acquire social-emotional skills, early literacy skills, and fine motor development, such as holding a pencil and using scissors.

5. The impact of home visits is expanding by serving home-based child care providers.

Home visits have traditionally been delivered to parents and primary caregivers. But in recent years, a number of home visiting programs, including HIPPY, ParentChild+ and Parents as Teachers, have seen an opportunity to expand their reach by serving home-based child care providers.

The model has proven successful, and many programs are trying to grow their presence among child care providers, including unlicensed “family, friend and neighbor” (FFN) providers, who are typically excluded from training and education programs.

A number of counties and states are finding ways to use public funds to implement this model.

Because many home-based child care providers serve multiple children and have strong relationships with the families they serve, many policymakers see them as well-positioned to translate the expertise they gain from home visits into positive outcomes for children.

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