Director, Pew Home Visiting Campaign
August 25, 2011 — Voluntary home visiting programs match parents with trained professionals who provide support during pregnancy and throughout a child’s first three years. Pew's Home Visiting Campaign promotes state and federal investments in high-quality, home-based programs.
In 2010, Congress established the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program to expand and improve state-administered home visitation. The initiative mandates that states spend the majority of federal funds on approved models. Pew’s Libby Doggett discusses how the federal funding is impacting state programs.
Q: The federal government is investing $1.5 billion in state-run home visiting programs. Why support the expansion of a program for expectant and new mothers during a fiscal crisis?
A: We wouldn't have this federal investment or significant state investments if there wasn’t really good research showing that home visiting for children and families is a good investment of public funds. A number of studies have shown that home visiting can help reduce pre-term and low birth weight babies, reduce infant mortality, reduce abuse and neglect, increase maternal employment, improve school readiness and even show reduction in criminal justice costs. When a program is well run, it can return up to $5.70 for every dollar invested. Compared with some expenditures at the federal level this $1.5 billion is peanuts. But for a new children’s social program this is solid money to help build good systems.
Q: Even with the addition of federal funding, how do states justify keeping or adding programs as they struggle to balance their budgets?
A: Not all investments and spending are equal. States really do need to look at what works, what has evidence. That’s what is unique about the federal legislation around home visiting. It actually requires states to spend 75 percent of the funding on programs that have a proven evidence base. And they've gone even further by having a private company look at the evidence and recommend model programs for states to use. There are eight of them right now that meet the evidence base required by the federal legislation. As states struggle to balance their budgets, they should be looking for investments like this and making decisions based on what the research says.
Q: Is the federal legislation changing the way states run home visiting programs?
A: Before the federal investment—which started with $100 million in 2010—some home visiting programs were in disarray. Some states were spending a great deal of money on a number of different programs from various agencies but they were not tracking how many children and families were being served, how much total funding was going out, and most important, what kind of results they were getting. We’ve recently reviewed a number of the state home visiting plans and, because of federal requirements, they are now putting systems in place to track the money and to make sure it gets to the right families.
Q: Are there strategies states can use to maximize their investment in home visiting programs?
A: The federal government is requiring that states set up data systems. To states I'd say, get that data system set up pretty quickly. Make sure you get a good, strong data system that will work across all of the programs.
I'd also say that there's an opportunity for states to learn from each other. States are trying to make the most of the federal support opportunity, and they need to realize that the state next door may have some good ideas.
Q: How is Pew working to foster conversation between the states?
A: I hope states will take time to call us at Pew. Our campaign recently released a first-of-its-kind report on funding and oversight of state home visiting programs, which we hope will provide policy makers with the data they need to make good decisions about where to invest. Our campaign is working in six states; we hope to add four more in the fall to facilitate conversation in those 10 states. We also offer other opportunities, such as webinars and reports, which will help states learn from each other. We recommend that all states take advantage of the federal funding. I know that a couple of states have indicated that they might not. But this approach is so effective, that we’d like to see every state participating.
Read more Q&As.