The U.S. Senate approved a two-year extension yesterday for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month. This federal-state partnership, which provides critical family support and coaching, has a long history of bipartisan backing at the federal and state levels. The extension of funding through September 30, 2017—$400 million a year for fiscal years 2016 and 2017—will mean that more of our nation’s vulnerable children will have the opportunity to grow up safer and healthier and to be successful in school and life. Crucial legislative leadership came from a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Roy Blunt (R-MO); Representatives Renee Ellmers (R-NC), Lois Capps (D-CA), and Joe Barton(R-TX); House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH); and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Children don’t come with instruction manuals. So this voluntary program matches motivated new and expectant families with trained experts from their communities, such as nurses or parent educators. These providers work with families to help the parents develop the skills and confidence to head a household and raise children. At the start, most participating parents lack the extended family support, experience, and knowledge of basic parenting skills that are critical to success during pregnancy and through the first few years of a child’s life. Through these programs, often known as home visiting because they take place in families’ homes, parents learn how to be successful in their new role.
MIECHV is designed to give states flexibility to identify the local outcomes they want to achieve, such as increasing school readiness or improving infant health. States then choose an appropriate family support and coaching program to help meet those needs. Programs are implemented locally, in the communities where participating families live.
The legislation includes significant accountability measures to ensure that the locally provided services are working. It emphasizes “evidence-based” programs with a track record of effectiveness demonstrated through rigorous scientific study and requires that states evaluate the results of local programs. Decades of research show that these family support and coaching programs benefit families and save taxpayers money. When quality programs are properly implemented in local communities, they lead to reduced health care costs, decreased need for remedial education, and increased family self-sufficiency. For every dollar spent on these efforts, at least $2 in future spending is saved.