Home Visits Empower Families to Achieve Brighter Futures

Sep 14, 2017, 1:00 PM, Posted by Claire Gibbons, Martha Davis

Home visiting programs help parents give kids a healthy start. Many families benefit from these services, but millions more could.

It seemed as though the odds were stacked against Leroy Butler from day one. He was born within a housing project to a 15-year-old mother and a father who was convicted of murder shortly after his birth. Fortunately for Leroy, though, his mother was committed to shaping better circumstances for her son. She wisely sought the help of a home visiting program that gave her support and practical advice on how to connect and play with her son, encouraging his social and emotional development, and helping build their close relationship. The home visitor also coached her so she could teach Leroy his letters and numbers to further prepare him for school. As a result, Leroy developed a deep love of learning that kept him off of the streets and ultimately culminated in admission to one of the best liberal arts schools in the nation on an academic scholarship. Leroy credits the home visiting program for dramatically altering his trajectory and saving him from the violence that took the lives of too many friends. Leroy always knew he wanted to give back to his community, and now at 28, he is doing so as a teacher, football coach, mentor to young men, and board member for the same home visiting program that helped him as a kid.  

Across the country, states have supported home visiting for decades, pooling resources to serve as many families as possible. In 2010, thanks to bipartisan support for evidence-based home visiting, the federal government established the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) to provide additional support with $400 million in annual grants. As a result, more than 250,000 families like Leroy’s benefitted from home visiting in 2015, and studies show that these programs can return up to $5.70 for every dollar invested. These benefits can result from reduced spending on health care, social services, and the criminal justice system, and higher earnings and tax revenue.

MIECHV is set to expire at the end of this month—putting participating families, as well as the 18 million other families eligible to participate, at risk.

Giving Kids a Healthy Start and Supporting Strong Families

Stories like Leroy’s are why we’re so committed to early childhood. We know that what happens in the first few years of a child’s life can dramatically impact his or her success, health, and well-being into the future. It’s a time when children’s brains are rapidly developing, and they are forming skills, knowledge, and habits that they will carry into adulthood. That’s why we’re focused on supporting families and making sure they are surrounded by policies and programs that help them get their children off to the healthiest start possible.

Home visiting programs help parents build healthier, safer environments for young children, providing critical early support that sets them up for later success in school and in life. Specifically, home visiting helps to:

  • Improve child health: Expecting and new mothers who receive home visiting services are guided to obtain proper care during pregnancy and encouraged to consider healthful practices like breastfeeding once their babies are born.
  • Cultivate safe homes and positive relationships: Through home visits, parents learn how to reduce unintentional injuries by “baby-proofing” their homes, and they develop a better understanding of how to nurture and respond to their infants and toddlers in positive ways.
  • Increase school readiness: Home visitors emphasize the importance of reading and other activities to support children’s learning and development.
  • Improve parent self-sufficiency: Parents get help setting goals to be financially independent, which helps them succeed in school or in seeking employment.

Home Visiting Helps Families Across the United States

Families who participate in home visiting can take many shapes. Some are parents who feel isolated because they don’t have friends or family nearby, some are military spouses who are on their own at home during a deployment, and some are teen parents managing new responsibilities and working to finish high school.

Home visiting programs benefit families that live across urban, rural, and suburban areas, and in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, five territories, and 25 tribal communities. Their stories, as well as Leroy’s, are told in the 2017 Home Visiting Yearbook—a comprehensive look at early childhood home visiting across the country, outlining the number of families that participate by state, the evidence behind the benefits, and who provides and funds these essential programs.

This first edition of the Yearbook presents a snapshot of home visiting using the most complete data available. We hope it will be a valuable resource to inform decisions and policies so that home visiting programs can be strengthened and expanded, enabling more and more children and families to realize the positive outcomes of home visiting. The Yearbook can also serve as a guide for families to learn about how they can benefit from home visiting.

Support for Home Visiting Must Continue

Families that have participated in these programs have seen that giving kids a strong and healthy start in life is one of the most important things we can do. And while it’s encouraging that many families receive support through home visiting services, there are 18 million pregnant women and families, including more than 23 million children, that are not being reached.

Every family deserves the opportunity to help their children reach their full potential—no matter where they live, how much money they make, or where they are from. Home visiting can make the difference in a young child’s life, just like it did for Leroy.

about the authors

Staff portrait of Martha Davis

Martha Davis, MSS, joined the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2014 as a senior program officer. Her work focuses on the root causes of violence, including child abuse and intimate partner violence. Read her full bio.

Claire Gibbons

Claire Gibbons, who joined the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2007, is a senior program officer dedicated to understanding and measuring key health and health care issues and analyzing programs that seek to improve the value of the nation’s health care and public health systems. Read her full bio.