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Home visits build stronger Iowa families
Lana Ross and Stephen Scott
Jul. 18, 2014 5:19 pm
As any new parent can tell you, children don't come with instruction manuals. But we all know kids get off to a better, healthier start with parents who have the know-how and support needed to raise them.
This is why our organizations continue to champion programs that provide vulnerable families the opportunity to develop necessary parenting skills right in their own homes. These family support programs are targeted investments that reap big dividends and are a proven strategy for strengthening families and saving taxpayer money. Because of these programs, many Iowa children will grow up safer, healthier and better able to reach their potential as productive adults.
The voluntary home visiting program provides participating families with the 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. A trained support worker shares knowledge about how to provide a safe and stimulating environment, as well as information about how children grow and learn. Motivated parents learn how to be successful in their new role. Results show that these programs reduce public health care costs and demand for infant emergency medical care, while increasing school readiness for our most vulnerable children.
Family support services also cut down on future public spending because families become more self-sufficient. Multiple studies have found mothers participating in home visiting were significantly more likely to be enrolled in an education or job training program. Mothers who have more years of formal education have higher family income, are more likely to be married, and have better-educated spouses. And, their children begin school ready to learn.
Because of these proven outcomes, Iowa has been implementing family support programs for decades and the state continues to expand the efforts. Much of the funding comes from the state budget, but an effective federal-state partnership called the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, or MIECHV, also contributes to making these programs possible.
Recently, MIECHV received a short-term funding extension by Congress, thanks to the leadership shown by our two U.S. senators. Sen. Chuck Grassley co-authored a bipartisan letter in the Senate calling for an extension of the program. Sen. Tom Harkin included support in his Strong Start for America's Children Act. Their leadership means that critical family support efforts will continue in Iowa and across the country for another six months and, hopefully, longer.
This extension passed on a bipartisan basis in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. That's a testimony to the proven power of the programs, but also offers us hope that when there are issues like this one - that address concerns shared by members of both parties - the members of Congress can work together and find solutions.
Extending these bipartisan-supported, voluntary pro-family programs also shows that, when state leaders speak up, members of Congress will listen. This is why we remain committed to working not only with our federal representatives, but also with our elected state officials. State policymakers' ongoing support was crucial in voicing just how important these programs are to Iowans. This strong state support persuaded key legislative leaders from both parties to extend these family strengthening efforts. In turn, they worked together and forged a bipartisan solution.
However, the current extension lasts only until March. We ask Congress to continue to work together to fully reauthorize this program, which has drawn such broad support from Iowa policymakers. Without question, MIECHV achieves the needed balance of spending taxpayer dollars wisely on programs proven to work and is exactly the kind of pro-family program we should be supporting. For now, MIECHV funds will continue to help those families who seek better knowledge, health and opportunities for their children.
' Lana Ross is executive director of the Iowa Community Action Association. Stephen Scott is executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Iowa. Comments: email@example.com
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