Home Visiting: A Proactive Approach to Addressing Inequality

DC Action is excited to welcome Ruqiyyah Abu-Anbar as a Home Visiting Fellow. Read her blog post below about her dedication to home visiting and early childhood and family policy.

There is one chart that I’ll never forget. I was sitting in an education policy class, a fresh-faced first-year graduate student looking for all the answers on how to reduce inequality in the United States. It was a moment that grabbed hold of my worldview and spun it on its axis.

The chart highlighted how disparities that start before school continue – or increase – throughout a child’s life course and into adulthood. What the most vulnerable children receive, and do not receive, in infancy and as toddlers defines their success relative to those children who were born into more advantaged households. Once these children are school-aged, there’s only so much that schools can do to mitigate that effect. Though much of this was not new information to me, this chart made the lingering influence of disadvantages early in life tangible, and my approach to inequality  pivoted. Rather than focus solely on how schools can reduce the impact of disadvantages that vulnerable children face, wouldn’t it be more efficient to also help families and communities prepare to be their most successful and to predispose their children to positive (health, cognitive, educational, social and emotional) outcomes before they get to school?

While there are a number of promising approaches to empowering families, one with a solid evidence base for improving outcomes is early childhood home visiting programs. Home visiting meets families where they are and works with them to address the needs of both the infant and the parent. As HyeSook described in her post on home visiting, these programs provide an array of services for children and families, including working with parents to establish positive parenting practices and knowledge of child development, providing parents with strategies for increasing school readiness and connecting families with other appropriate health and social services. As an intervention that has existed in the District for decades and that has received renewed interest from both local and federal policymakers, home visiting is ripe for use in strengthening early childhood supports in the District.

As I learned in my role on the team evaluating Texas’ Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, home visiting programs do their best work when they are coordinated, communicative, implemented with fidelity and supported by an infrastructure of early childhood services designed to meet the needs of every  child. That’s where the District of Columbia Home Visiting (HV) Council comes in (and I with it!). The HV Council brings together stakeholders in the District’s early childhood system of care to ensure coordination, access and long-term sustainability for local home visiting programs.

As DC Action’s Home Visiting Policy Fellow, funded by the Bainum Family Foundation, I am excited to have the opportunity to support the HV Council to ensure that the District has the infrastructure to support home visiting programs for the children and families who need it. I’ll also be helping DC Action and the HV Council explore options for new systems to support home visiting, including a single point of entry system through which DC families would access home visiting services. And, because you have to know where you are to understand how you can get where you want to be, I’ll also play a role in documenting the work that our partners in the District are already doing to implement home visiting programs.

Support for home visiting fits right in alongside DC Action’s other work to advocate for policies to improve the lives of children in the District of Columbia. I can’t wait to apply my experience working in public health and family policy research, partnerships and direct service to support the missions of DC Action and the Bainum Family Foundation to serve the District’s youngest citizens.