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Op-ed: Home visiting programs make a lasting impact

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Even as technology makes our world smaller and more interconnected, we often find ourselves more isolated than ever before. In our busy and sometimes disjointed communities, a nervous first-time mother is much more likely to get a push notification from her phone than a visit from a concerned neighbor. A first-time father may find himself Googling, “Baby won’t stop crying help” because he doesn’t know any other, more experienced, fathers he can ask for advice.

Yet, such personalized contacts can be absolutely vital to keeping families safe and strong. Sadly, not all Utah families are lucky enough to be surrounded by supportive relatives or be part of a close-knit church community. In these households, hunger, illness, stress and even abuse may create a chaotic environment for our most vulnerable Utahns — very young children.

That is why many Utah communities have successfully implemented home visiting programs since the 1980s. In 2008, in response to increased demand from communities across the country, President George W. Bush proposed a $10 million federal investment in home visiting, through a program called Evidence-Based Home Visiting. Subsequent administrations built on Bush’s investment in evidence-based home visiting programs because they showed real results.

Extensive research has shown that quality home visiting programs — such as Parents As Teachers, Family Spirit and the Nurse-Family Partnership — measurably reduce birth complications, infant emergency medical care episodes, incidences of child abuse and neglect and crime. These programs are also shown to successfully encourage young parents to pursue education and job training so they can join the workforce and contribute to Utah’s thriving economy.

For every dollar we invest in home visiting, our state saves between $3 and $6 later on. The strong foundation home visiting helps establish for these young families results in less need for state and federal support programs as children grow up healthier and safer.

During the last few years, Congress has authorized Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting funding in a few short-term extensions. This creates instability and uncertainty for the nurses, educators and other home visitors who work hard to build relationships with at-risk families across our state. The current funding for Utah’s home visiting programs will run out next year, unless Congress acts soon to reauthorize this valuable source of family support.

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids members support voluntary home visiting programs because law enforcement leaders have seen all too often what happens when children don’t receive adequate support in the earliest years of life. They have a greater likelihood of ending up on destructive paths that can include addiction and criminal activity. Home visiting programs equip parents with the tools and skills they need to stimulate their children’s development and avoid harmful parenting practices that can lead to abuse or neglect.

Voices For Utah Children advocates for home visiting programs because such programs have a measurable and positive impact on the health, safety and school readiness of Utah’s youngest children. Home visiting programs are part of a network of support that prepares kids to learn and succeed when they show up for their very first day of school.

That is why we are joining together to encourage you to contact your members of Congress, in the House and in the Senate, to ask for a swift and substantive renewal of the Maternal, Infant & Early Childhood Home Visiting program. You can take action by visiting today.

Chief Mike Brown leads the Salt Lake City Police Department and is a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids’ National Leadership Council. Anna Thomas is a senior policy analyst at Voices for Utah Children.