In Kern County, we value families. So it’s distressing to realize that, in a matter of weeks, hundreds of thousands of federal dollars that support families in our county could vanish.
These funds go to home visiting programs for new parents and have been shown, through rigorous studies, to increase children’s school readiness, reduce criminal activity among teens and mothers, increase maternal employment, and reduce welfare use.
The livelihood of these programs depends heavily on federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) funding — which will expire on Sept. 30 unless Congress acts.
Over the past several years, Kern County has received nearly $1 million in MIECHV funding. Like other counties around the state, Kern has had the discretion to use these funds where they are needed most. Since the teen pregnancy rate in our county is double the state average, Kern County’s home visiting programs largely serve teenage mothers in high school. The program supports medically vulnerable moms who are often isolated with less supportive home environments, poor socioeconomic consequences; and who are at increased risk for premature labor, anemia, and high blood pressure.
These babies often experience low birth weight and poor cognitive development. Visiting nurses help these young moms have healthier births, and support them to stay in school and set goals to further their education. Helping mothers and families become self-sufficient not only breaks the cycle of poverty, it strengthens communities and saves taxpayers’ money.
In fact, studies have found for every $1 invested in home visiting programs for highest-risk families, there is a $5.70 return to society. These cost savings come from preventing substance abuse, child abuse, crime, special education use, school grade repetition, and emergency room visits, among other things.
Thanks to funding through MIECHV, we are able to offer high-quality home visitation programs to Kern County’s most vulnerable parents. The program, Nurse-Family Partnership, is backed by decades of research with national outcomes, including:
• 50 percent fewer child abuse and neglect cases
• Nearly 60 percent reduction in juvenile arrests
• Two-thirds reduction in need for special education services in elementary school
• Nearly 70 percent fewer single-family households
Results like this are why MIECHV programs have always had broad bipartisan support. Home visiting is one of the most evidenced-based programs for helping families become better parents and ensuring children grow up in a sound, stable environment. MIEHCV dollars are critical to keeping these programs running
In today’s political climate, people disagree on many issues, yet everyone wants healthy, school-ready kids; less criminal activity; and families that are economically self-sufficient.
Reps. Kevin McCarthy and David Valadao have provided strong leadership for our county; we urge them to continue doing so in Congress by supporting MIECHV reauthorization. Let’s stick with a proven, winning formula, and make sure Kern County stays strong, safe, and healthy for years to come.
Roland Maier serves as executive director of First 5 Kern, the Children and Family Commission for the County of Kern, one of 58 in the state. Maier can be reached at email@example.com.