Testimony to DC Council on Home Visiting Programs

quote about the importance of home visiting

Testimony to DC Council about Home Visiting Programs | Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen

DC Action chairs the Home Visiting Council with other advocates, community-based providers, and agency leaders. This body works to strengthen home visiting in the District by building a cross-sector network of support for programs, advocating for resources and funding for their stability and growth, and collaborating to address system-wide challenges to the implementation of home visiting services. We are grateful for CFSA’s active participation on the Home Visiting Council. The agency brings valuable insights and contributes to ongoing work to ensure that DC families can connect to home visiting services. 

DC Action urges renewed support for home visiting, an important preventative service CFSA has historically funded. Home visiting is essential for families navigating circumstances and stressors that place young children at greater risk for child abuse and neglect.

To hold these programs and the families that benefit from them harmless in FY 2021, the two programs need $310,000 to ensure they can continue serving families.Thank you Councilmember Nadeau for your support for these programs and your role in securing funding for them in previous years. CFSA has a budget nearly identical in size to its budget in FY 2020. FSA’s failure to prioritize these programs during this time is concerning, especially because, for some families, COVID-19 has introduced or amplified the kind of stressors that put children at significant risk of abuse and neglect. CFSA has acknowledged the importance of prevention through Families First DC. Continued investment in existing home visiting programs must be part of CFSA’s approach and while CFSA is funding one home visiting program through DC Health, other existing programs are very important.

Home visiting effectively supports expectant parents and the families of young children (usually up to age five) right where they are: in their home or another comfortable place. Home visitors come to families to help parents navigate stressors and challenges that can sometimes result in a child being abused or neglected. These programs are incredibly flexible and transcend the limitations of services centralized in a physical space, such as a community center or a government office.

We know that child abuse is the not the result of a single risk factor but the accumulation of risk factors and toxic stress. Research shows that home visiting programs are instrumental in helping families mitigate these challenges and preventing child abuse. This is critical because, in DC in 2018, 563 substantiated cases of abuse included infants and toddlers. [1]

It is important that the District, and CFSA in particular, continue to provide home visiting as part of an array of child abuse and neglect prevention services because:

1.  Children under the age of 3 continue to be at the greatest risk for abuse or neglect. In 2018, one-third of children with confirmed cases of abuse or neglect were under age five. [1] As families experience increased stressors related to COVID-19 and the economic downturn that has accompanied it, it is likely that these numbers will rise for our youngest residents. We are already hearing anecdotally that, with families confined to their homes and as economic opportunity dwindles, abuse incidents are rising. This is incredibly concerning and signals a need to make available economic supports for families experiencing hardship, mental health supports for those who need them, and preventative services like home visiting that help families process and navigate the challenges they are facing in safe and healthy ways. All three of these must be part of a strong approach to keeping young children safe in these times and beyond. 

Home visitors are a vital lifeline for those at risk of harm, as they are able to check in, link families with any updated resource they learn about, and track the safety of caretakers and children. The strong bonds home visitors build with their families and the consistent support they provide create a firm foundation that enables home visitors to help families through the extraordinary stress and hardship they’re currently experiencing. Our home visitors are not only providing families with what they need to survive, but also stability, reassurance, and the knowledge that no matter how hard it gets, they will help them get through it.

2. Home visitors have been a lifeline for families during COVID-19. As services have been suspended in congregate settings like schools, community centers, and child care facilities, home visiting has been indispensable. Home visitors are already trained to coach families managing difficult circumstances and facing a wide range of obstacles and threats. This skillset positions them well to support families in these tough times. Quickly adapting to the circumstances, home visitors are now making virtual visits via whatever digital platform their families are able to use. While these visits typically center around helping parents understand child development milestones, advocate for their children’s educational and medical needs, and draw on resources for parenting and job assistance, visits since COVID-19 have addressed more urgent needs. These include getting food and supplies for their children and cleaning products to prevent spread of the coronavirus. Home visitors connect families with food pantries, schools, and community organizations that are providing free food, and often delivering food themselves. Some home visiting programs are providing emergency funds to families to help pay for transportation and are making safe, no-contact deliveries of supplies. These are a critical support in helping families navigate this unprecedented public health crisis and access the opportunities available to them, and an example of why these programs are so important to sustain as part of a comprehensive early childhood system.

2.     CFSA reaches unique and specific populations who need tailored support. CFSA’s programs are designed for unique populations who are drawn to and benefit from the programs’ ability to address their specific needs. These include families experiencing homelessness, who have experienced domestic violence, who include a parent returning home from incarceration, and fathers. While most home visiting programs are able to be flexible to meet the needs of families, programs that are constructed for populations in need of dedicated support can go even further. For example, the CFSA father-child program implemented at Mary’s Center supports fathers, who--like many others--are often more comfortable and more willing to receive support specifically designed for their needs. The program includes fatherhood groups where dads can build community with other parenting men, curriculum on toxic masculinity to help participants grow as partners and parents, and very flexible scheduling to accommodate particular ways fathers tend to ask for support.

3. CFSA home visiting programs are popular and well-enrolled. Historically, CFSA’s home visiting programs have been consistently enrolled to or near capacity, demonstrating their value to the parents and families they serve. My colleagues from these programs can share more about their programs in their testimonies.

4. Programs delivered in the home or another comfortable setting are an important part of the fabric of a mixed delivery system. The lives of most families, and especially those in circumstances that often lead to child abuse and neglect, are complicated. To establish an equity-focused mixed delivery system truly able to address the complex needs and preferences of all families who need support, CFSA must be one of multiple agencies harnessing the unique value of home-based services. I want to be clear: home visiting programs share a service delivery strategy but the content and approach taken by each is unique and should be crafted in service of the community it supports and its intended goals. The strategy of home visiting, therefore, must not be confined to a single agency, but should be part of a toolbox of approaches that all child-serving organizations use to eliminate racial disparities and ensure that all children in the District are able to meet their full potential.

As congregate services slow to a halt due to COVID-19, home visiting programs are more important than ever, making clear why the District must prioritize long-term, sustainable funding of at least $310,000 in FY 2021 for these programs.