Early Home Visiting Programs: Compassionate and Cost-Effective Policy

Backed by compelling data and amazing personal success stories, Tennessee Senator Steve Dickerson and Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Dunn are advancing an important solution to help parents develop the skills they need to give their young children a great start in life: increasing the state’s investment in voluntary, evidenced-based home visiting.

Home visiting professionals visit families in their homes to coach parents on how to support their child’s healthy development, as well as offer connections to additional community resources and services to meet their child’s health, developmental and learning needs.

This evidence-based solution has repeatedly proven to strengthen bonding between mothers and infants, improve parenting skills, reduce abuse and neglect, improve health of parents and babies, and ready children for their school years.

“In short, voluntary home visiting programs change lives,” Kristen Rector, CEO of Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee (PCAT), recently stated. “We know that parents are their child’s first teacher and home visiting empowers parents to be the best they can be.”

PCAT, through its Nurturing Parenting and Healthy Families Tennessee, is the largest provider of voluntary evidence-based home visiting in the state.

“Of the children and families who benefit from the program, 98 percent show improvement in key areas, ranging from health to school readiness,” Rector said. “And with the proper nurturing in these early, formative years, children are better set up for success later in life. It’s even been linked to improvements in children’s behavior, cognitive development, performance in school and graduation rates.”

There is also considerable evidence that home visiting generates strong ROI: investments in home visiting programs reduce negative societal impacts immediately and in the long run. That transformation saves taxpayers substantial money by providing a return on investment of up to $5.70 for every $1 invested through reducing costs associated with child abuse, poor health and academic failure, and a corresponding increase in economic self-sufficiency.

The positive impact of home visiting is clear but Tennessee’s challenge is the need, which far outweighs what is currently available. Tennessee is home to 118,580 children younger than 5 who live in poverty, which often creates conditions leading to toxic stress and childhood trauma. At the current level of funding, Tennessee is only able to provide home visiting services to less than 2 percent of those children. And of the 95 counties in Tennessee, 45 have no home visiting services at all.

Dickerson, Dunn, Representative Gary Hicks and Representative Ryan Williams are among the legislative champions of investments in evidence-based home visiting programs (EBHV).  Tennesseans for Quality Early Education applauds legislative leadership on this vital effort and urges the Tennessee General Assembly to support their request for an additional investment of $1.5 million in home visiting this budget year.

The reasons are clear: Home visiting works. It is vital to the health and well-being of children, families, and communities. And it is enormously popular in Tennessee with a 70 percent approval rating among voters, according to a TQEE survey conducted in 2018.

The benefits of home visiting far outlast and outweigh the investments, as evidenced improvements in maternal, newborn and child health, reductions in child abuse and neglect; improved parent-child bonding; and improvements in children’s school readiness. 

These are exactly the powerful outcomes Tennesseans want – and deserve – from public investments.

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