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Michele Baranaskas: Home visitors need congressional support (Gazette)

By By Michele Baranaskas

On July 12, Partners in Community Outreach joined hundreds of organizations representing thousands of Americans in a day of action urging Congress, including our West Virginia members, to act swiftly to preserve and expand the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting program.

This voluntary, evidence-based program, also known as MIECHV, will expire on Sept. 30. If Congress fails to act, nearly 2,000 families in West Virginia could lose services on which they depend.

Partners in Community Outreach and others, including the Home Visiting Coalition are asking that MIECHV be reauthorized for five years with incremental funding increases to reach $800 million annually in order to meet the needs of children and families nationwide.

Advocates also stress that the existing flexible structure of the program should remain in place to continue to allow state and local leaders to make the best possible decisions for their own communities.

Home visiting is a smart, scientifically proven investment that leads to better outcomes for families, kids and communities and significant cost-savings for state budgets over time.

In West Virginia, MIECHV is administered by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Office of Maternal, Child and Family Health. West Virginia currently receives $5.8 million in formula funding. The Bureau for Children and Families receives $1 million in state appropriations for home visiting (In-Home Family Education). Grants are awarded to organizations across our state, such as the Tucker County Family Resource Network’s Allegheny Highlands Parents As Teachers program in Barbour, Randolph and Tucker Counties.

Nicole, a grandmother in Barbour County, says this about the program: “My daughter Sara and 11-month-old grandson are participants in Barbour County Parents as Teachers. [Parent Educator] Teresa has worked diligently with Sara to help her learn parenting skills which include developmentally appropriate activities, nutrition, health care, and ways to keep Lennox occupied and engaged. This program reaches out to many young parents, helping them to bond and interact with their children through learning activities and community outreach.”

Additional resources for MIECHV are necessary because the program today can only reach a small portion of those who could use help becoming the best parents they can be. In Partners in Community Outreach’s 2013 report, Statewide Access to In-Home Family Education Services, it was estimated that 9,134 families would participate in home visiting at any given time. The services are provided at no cost to the families.

The West Virginia Home Visitation Program continually gathers data on the 27 community-based programs providing research-based home visiting (Early Head Start, Healthy Families America, Maternal Infant Health Outreach Workers and Parents As Teachers) to families in all 55 counties. Examples of positive data outcomes are increased pre- and postnatal care and well child visits, decreased child maltreatment reports and substantiated cases, and increased developmental progress in children.

Nationally, proven outcomes of evidence-based home visiting include improvements in prenatal care and birth weight; early childhood health and development; school readiness; parenting practices; and economic stability; while reducing child abuse, neglect and injuries; juvenile delinquency and crime; and dependence on public assistance.

Partners in Community Outreach is the coalition of West Virginia research-based In-Home Family Education programs and funded by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation through a grant to TEAM for WV Children, Inc. Visit wvpartners.org for research on home visiting, and an updated list of home visiting programs.

Michele Baranaskas, of South Charleston, is a social worker and coordinator of Partners in Community Outreach.

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