Home Visiting Is a Bipartisan Winner for Families and Communities | Commentary

Posted March 11, 2015 at 12:28pm

Ask many people in law enforcement about their toughest days, and you’ll hear time and again how upsetting it is to be called to a home where children are being abused or neglected. Sometimes, the signs of violence and oppression come at the hands of adults who are willfully causing harm to their kids. Other times we encounter parents and caregivers who are simply overwhelmed with and unprepared for the stresses of raising young children. In many cases, the families are living in poverty, with parents who don’t have the education or life skills to be productive citizens.

With all of this in mind, I’m standing with more than 1,000 police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors from across the nation in urging Congress to renew the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. Created with strong bipartisan support in 2010, MIECHV provides federal funding for voluntary “home visiting” services for young, low-income women and their children. These programs bring trained nurses or other trained mentors into the women’s homes to help them understand their children’s emotional needs, make their homes safe for children, and respond appropriately to stressful parenting situations.

High-quality home visiting programs have earned accolades from both sides of the aisle because of their impact on reducing child abuse and neglect. That’s important, because every year there are roughly 700,000 confirmed cases of child abuse or neglect nationwide. By the time law enforcement gets involved, it is already a tragedy. Children who survive abuse or neglect continue to deal with the emotional and physical pain long after the incident. They are almost 30 percent more likely to commit a violent crime later in life, and are also statistically more likely to abuse their own children.

But we also know participation can lead to many other benefits for families and communities. These were the key points made in a recent report by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, an organization of 5,000 law enforcement leaders.

Quality home visiting can keep moms and their children from becoming involved in crime. A randomized controlled trial of a Nurse-Family Partnership home visiting program in Elmira, N.Y., found that 15 years after the program began, high-risk mothers who did not receive home visits had more than three times as many crime convictions as those who did participate. And by the time they were 19, daughters who were in the control group who had not participated in the programs had nine times more convictions than those who did. That’s important given the dramatic sixfold increase of women in prison over the past three decades. There are now more than 200,000 women incarcerated in the U.S., and almost two-thirds of women in state prisons are mothers.

It can save lives. Data collected in a study of an NFP and Healthy Families America programs in Cincinnati showed mortality rates for infants whose mothers were involved in high quality home visiting programs were 60 percent lower than for a comparison group. A study of an NFP program in Memphis found that 21 years after the program began, mothers who did not participate were eight times more likely to have died from “external causes — including unintentional injuries, suicide, drug overdoses or homicide.”

It’s also a smart investment. An independent study in Washington State found that NFP programs produce a net savings of more than $17,000 for every family served based on impact on improved children’s health, reductions in abuse and neglect, increased readiness for school and reductions in future crime.

All of this comes as good news to law enforcement leaders and the communities we serve. Unfortunately funding for home visiting programs is in jeopardy. While MIECHV was reauthorized last year as part of the health extenders package on the “doc fix” bill, it will expire on March 31 without additional action. Protecting the program is one of the smartest steps Congress can take for stronger families, safer streets and taxpayer savings in the years to come.

Edward A. Flynn is chief of police for the Milwaukee Police Department.