My Turn: Data shows that children need home visiting

For the Monitor
Published: 4/15/2019 12:15:17 AM

Here in New Hampshire, children do not have equal access to high-quality early development opportunities putting them on the path to a healthy, successful life.

This is one of the leading conclusions of the “2019 New Hampshire Kids Count Data Book,” recently released by New Futures Kids Count.

The data book, which looks holistically at the health and wellness of New Hampshire’s children, outlines a series of policy recommendations for lawmakers to follow to better support children and families.

One vital recommendation is to remove eligibility restrictions on New Hampshire’s Medicaid Home Visiting program, making this existing, but vastly underutilized, program available to more Granite State families.

Home visitors are nurses, social workers and other skilled professionals who work with families in their own homes, where they are most comfortable. Home visiting programs provide health checkups, screenings, referrals, parenting education, and guidance with navigating other programs and services, like substance use or mental health treatment and recovery programs.

Home visitors also monitor progress on children’s developmental milestones, helping to prevent costly long-term health and wellness problems before they start.

In New Hampshire, we are struggling from multiple crises impacting the health and wellness of our children, including substance misuse, mental health, and child abuse and neglect. These situations, which cause toxic stress in kids, can have long-term, negative health and wellness consequences. Home visiting helps reduce these negative impacts and set children, and our state, up for success.

Quality home visiting programs help parents provide safe and supportive environments for their children, and over time, families and home visitors build strong relationships that lead to lasting benefits for the entire family. The programs are proven to work. They strengthen parenting skills, reduce poverty and child maltreatment, and help reduce the devastating long-term consequences of toxic stress on kids. They also lower health care costs to the state and increase family self-sufficiency.

Recent data shows an incredible gap in access to home visiting programs in New Hampshire. Approximately 9,200 New Hampshire children could benefit from home visiting. However, only 1,100 children are getting the services they deserve.

This gap in access to home visiting services is, in part, due to unnecessary barriers to existing programs, including the N.H. Medicaid Home Visiting program. Currently, N.H. Medicaid Home Visiting is only available to first-time moms under age 21, who enroll their children in the program within their first two weeks of life.

It’s not realistic to ask parents to enroll their new infant into any program just two weeks after they are born. Further, these restrictions exclude young parents of more than one child and parents over the age of 21, including those grappling with serious substance use disorders and other mental health conditions.

There is no question, all families can benefit from home visiting services and that benefit does not diminish due to the size of the family or age of the parent.

Senate Bill 274 will remove these burdensome restrictions to make the program available to all Medicaid-eligible families and can help to increase the utilization of this critical prevention program.

Families across the state credit their success in supporting their children to home visiting services.

As one Granite State home visitor told me about one of her clients: “Understanding her children’s needs and development, learning about healthy relationships, arming herself with strategies for confronting challenging behaviors, and knowing that she had a support system to reach out to when she questioned her ability to use any of those things, has made the difference for Amanda.”

There are hundreds more Granite Staters like Amanda who have already experienced the benefit of home visiting, and thousands more who should.

More New Hampshire children and families deserve home visiting services. Lawmakers should pass SB 274.

(Rebecca Woitkowski is the early childhood policy coordinator at New Futures Kids Count.)




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