When life was simpler, and many branches of extended families lived close together, new parents often had access to a large network of experienced adults. This network would lend a helping hand to coach parents, passing along proven techniques to bring down a fever, read to a toddler, or respond to a child’s crying.
For many families, life is more complicated now. Families are more spread out. Retirement may be delayed. Parents may be struggling to manage two, or even three, jobs, or school, while taking care of their children.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were a way to offer parents of young children a network of support, mentoring and coaching in the home, available when they want it most?
There is. It’s called voluntary home visiting, and it’s available in hundreds of communities across the country.
Home visiting started in local communities that wanted a better way to help families. Along the way, home visiting efforts have attracted support from private donors and local, state and federal governments because the research shows home visiting helps parents and improves outcomes for children, especially for the most vulnerable families.
Home Visiting Models
Communities may use multiple different approaches to voluntary home visiting to meet varying needs. Coaching may focus on maternal and child health, child abuse prevention, or school readiness. Programs may work with parents before the first child is born; with parents whose children have not yet reached their first birthday; or with parents of older children who have not yet started kindergarten.
While it’s difficult to generalize what a voluntary home visiting program looks like, it typically has one or more of the following elements:
- Home visits are offered to at-risk families with young children, sometimes starting during the prenatal period. Visits may continue until the child enters kindergarten. Some communities offer universal home visiting to all families of newborns.
- Parents request home visits.
- Home visitors are trained to help coach parents. The visitor may be a nurse, social worker, early childhood specialist or community peer with specialized training.
- Home visitors may focus on maternal and child health, parenting and family education, prevention of child abuse and neglect, or school readiness.
- Home visitors work with parents or primary caregivers, helping develop greater understanding of children’s health and development, identifying developmental challenges, and showing caregivers how to support the child’s growth, development or learning.
- Home visitors may provide advice and guidance regarding child health and normal child development, teach parenting skills, help parents address problem behaviors, and offer referrals to other community services if needed.
Research and evaluation has established that every $1 invested in home visiting saves at least $2 in future spending. This is because quality home visiting, carried out in local communities, results in lower health care costs, higher family self-sufficiency, and less remedial education.
How is Home Visiting Funded?
While precise figures are difficult to obtain, anecdotal information suggests that about 70% of home visiting funds come from states, local communities, and the private and philanthropic sectors. While the federal partnership is vital to strengthening home visiting and expanding access to more families (see below), it is estimated that federal funds account for approximately 30% of total home visiting resources.
State legislatures from Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas to Washington and Oregon, Wisconsin and Florida, support home visiting. School districts in Texas and Virginia have recognized the impact of home visiting on school success and fund home visiting for their students. Corporations such as Boeing have awarded grants to serve additional families, as have the Gates, Bezos and Kellogg Foundations, to name but a few of the corporate and philanthropic funders who recognize the power of home visiting.