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Ruth Schubert, Children's Alliance

The stress of a newborn baby can be difficult for any family. Poverty, youth, depression or isolation can make that stress overwhelming.

Home visiting programs, like the Nurse-Family Partnership funded in President Barack Obama’s proposed budget, were designed to help families like these—the ones who are teetering on the edge. And in these tough economic times more and more families are coming close to the breaking point.

These voluntary, intensive programs promote children’s health and give parents in-home support to help their children develop the social, emotional, and intellectual skills they need to succeed in school and life. Home visitors meet with new parents regularly, offering them help that ranges from suggesting new ways to support the child’s development, to helping a parent sign up for Food Stamps.

Why is home visiting so important now? The sad reality is that when economic pressures bear down on struggling families child abuse rates go up. In a recent press conference Klickitat County Sheriff Rick McComas described two babies left in the road, a toddler who went next door to ask for food and another toddler with 37 bruises—all sad cases from the past few months.

Fight Crime, Invest In Kids last month raised concerns that the economic crisis was likely to push child abuse and neglect rates higher.

But we’ve also heard stories of families who survived and thrived thanks to home visiting programs. We recently talked to a teenage mom who made it through school and is now in college and a young couple that overcame their isolation to build solid careers and lives in their communities.

Home visiting programs have been getting a lot of attention lately. Following Obama’s lead, both chambers of the U.S. Congress have indicated their intent to fund home visiting programs, although they would have to find cuts elsewhere in the budget to do so.

Here in Washington state the Early Learning Action Alliance worked to try and retain $3.5 million in the state budget to support home visiting programs. The funds are administered from Council for Children and Families, which is focused on prevention of child abuse and neglect. In the final state budget, though, cuts to the Council will mean about a 30 percent reduction in home visiting services.

As this serious downturn adds to the stress so many families face, let’s make sure we offer support to the young families who are struggling the most.

To learn more:

Family stories:

Early Learning Action Alliance Policy Paper

Story in Olympian: “Nurse-Family Partnership Threatened”

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