For many, pregnancy can be a joyous experience even amidst the undeniable stress that comes with starting a family. New parents who are lucky enough to be surrounded by friends and family receive support to navigate the unfamiliarity that comes with giving birth and raising a child.
For others, pregnancy can be a vastly different reality. New and expecting parents who do not have access to guidance, resources, or support at their fingertips may struggle to understand how they will manage it all. On top of that, financial instability can compound daunting feelings of the unknown, as well as limit access to professional care and resources for healthy development.
A federal program that aims to alleviate the burden that many new parents face is the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV).
What makes MIECHV so effective? These voluntary programs pair expecting families with mentorship from trained professionals who work with families in their homes starting from pregnancy through to their child’s kindergarten entry. In providing this continuous mentorship to caregivers over a number of years, home visiting programs provide families with the resources they need to ensure improved outcomes in health, education, social development, and economic self-sufficiency. However, thousands of families across the state will lose out on this life-changing support if this program is not reauthorized in Congress by the end of the year, as MIECV is set to expire on December 16th, 2022.
Through research, we know that home visiting programs work and dramatically impact the well-being of the entire family. MIECHV-funded home visiting programs also help stabilize families by screening for domestic violence, behavioral health issues, education, and employment challenges, ensuring participants get any wraparound services needed to promote family well-being. Furthermore, home visiting programs serve a vital purpose in providing free resources and services to vulnerable populations in Massachusetts. Last year, 80.4% of Massachusetts households served were low income and 5.1% of households served included a pregnant participant under 21 years of age.
Studies have found that every dollar spent on home visiting programs return benefits worth $1.80 to $5.70. Reauthorizing MIECHV not only benefits children and families but makes economic sense by reducing the need for more intensive and expensive supports later in life.
Deborah M. Cosgrove, the Senior Program Director from the Justice Resource Institute, spoke to the Children’s League of Massachusetts (CLM) about how MIECHV funding impacts maternal health in their Young Parents Support program. She explained,
“Young parents often do not have the support they need, or access to important providers in the community. Home visitors make a great impact on maternal mental and physical health by providing non-judgmental support in the home environment.”
In Massachusetts alone, there are over 334,600 families who could have benefitted from home visiting services. Unfortunately, MIECHV-funded operations only supported 1,800 families in 2020, a mere fraction of the families eligible for home visiting models. While it is certainly worth exploring how many families in need of this program are aware of its availability, this data undeniably reflects the urgency of reauthorizing and expanding MIECHV.
Reauthorizing MIECHV will increase funding for the expansion of this voluntary, evidence-based home visiting program over the next five years, provide additional resources to tribal communities, and allow for the continuation of virtual home visiting, which has proven to be vital during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of families across Massachusetts would gain access to this voluntary program and receive crucial support and guidance, which could make all the difference in a child’s life.
Last week, H.R. 8876, the Jackie Walorski Maternal and Child Home Visiting Reauthorization Act, was voted through the U.S. House and garnered an unprecedented amount of bipartisan support in favor of reauthorization. At CLM, we are hoping this is a sign of the exciting legislative action that is to come from the Senate.
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