Research has shown that early childhood experiences can greatly impact our lives, both negatively and positively. The Division of Public Health’s Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program is working with Idaho families to increase the positive experiences they give their children as they learn how to provide for their children’s needs as well as their own.
Adverse Childhood Experiences, also known as ACEs, are stressful or traumatic events that have been linked with negative, long-term effects on health and well-being. ACEs research has shown how toxic stress during early childhood impacts brain development and has lifelong effects on health. The most common ACEs often include abuse and neglect, domestic violence, sexual violence, substance use, parental mental illness, incarceration of a family member, and divorce.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the more ACEs a child has early in life, the higher his or her risk is for varied health, social and mental health problems as an adult. ACEs have been linked to risky health behaviors, violence, substance use and mental illness, chronic health conditions and even early death. Exposure to trauma in childhood can also affect how that child grows up and then raises their own children. ACEs are common and are not limited by socio-economic status — nearly 40 percent of adults have had two or more.
According to Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, “Toxic stress response can occur when a child experiences strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity — such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship — without adequate adult support.” Toxic stress can disrupt a child’s developing brain and change how neural connections are made, especially for very young children whose brains are at critical stages of development. Over time, a child can experience problems with learning, behavior, and other physical and mental health issues.
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All of this paints a rather grim picture for the future of some children and families. However, research also tells us that protective factors such as positive parenting, nurturing relationships and safe home environments can counteract the effects of toxic stress and help families and children build resiliency. The presence of stable and nurturing adults are extremely important to healthy brain development during children’s first few years of life.
Home visiting program helps establish stability
A recent survey by the United Health Foundation found that about 28 percent of Idaho children up to age 17 experienced two or more ACEs. Home visiting is one support available to Idaho families. It has has been successful at minimizing the effects of ACEs and toxic stress while helping families build their capacity for creating and maintaining nurturing and healthy households. Home visiting helps prevent child abuse and neglect, improves maternal and child health, and promotes school readiness and success.
Qualified professionals provide home visiting for eligible expecting parents, new parents, caregivers and young children in their homes. Home visiting services help families learn more about how children grow and learn and offer support to strengthen the parent-child relationship. Home visitors provide information on prenatal health, newborn care and child development, while they also promote positive interactions between parents and children, conduct assessments related to development and family well-being, teach parents self-care, guide families through goal-setting and offer referrals to needed resources.
Some resources may include nutritional support, services for developmental delays, housing and utility assistance, substance use and mental health referrals, safety plan development, domestic violence support and referral. With the proper support, guidance and resources, Idaho families have the power to greatly improve their outcomes later in life.
The Idaho Division of Public Health’s, Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program currently provides evidence-based home visiting services to families in-need throughout the state. These services are conducted through a contract by the seven local public health districts. Over 600 Idaho families are receiving services statewide. One of two home visiting models is offered by the public health districts: Parents as Teachers or Nurse-Family Partnership. While there is some variation in eligibility and content between the two models, families and home visitors work collaboratively in both models to support healthy family functioning and help give children a better start in life.
Elke Shaw-Tulloch, master of health sciences, is the state health officer and Division of Public Health administrator with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Find out more about Department of Health and Welfare services at www.healthandwelfare.idaho.gov.
If you or anyone you know may benefit from home visiting services in Idaho, contact your local public health district or visit www.homevisiting.dhw.idaho.gov for home visiting programs in Idaho in addition to those offered by MIECHV.
- Panhandle Health District Nurse-Family Partnership 208-415-5298
- Idaho North Central District Parents as Teachers 208-799-3100
- Southwest District Health Nurse-Family Partnership 208-455-5300
- Central District Health Department Parents as Teachers 208-327-8629
- South Central Public Health Department Parents as Teachers 208-737-5966
- Southeastern Idaho Public Health Parents as Teachers 208-239-5238
- Eastern Idaho Public Health Parents as Teachers 208-533-3194
Success story No. 1
Holly Whitworth, program manager
Parents as Teachers Program, Eastern Idaho Public Health, with the program for about three years
“We began visiting a family in 2015. The family, especially the mother, was isolated. The home visitor, Marci, began making visits twice a month and identified that two of her children had developmental delays. They were referred to the Infant Toddler Program and began receiving services. The family began to attend Parents as Teachers group meetings, and engage fully in home visits. With support, the family began to advocate for their children’s needs and even communicate their own needs. When we began seeing the family, they received Medicaid support. The father recently obtained a full-time position with benefits and no longer needs Medicaid. The mother is serving on our program’s advisory board.”
Success story No. 2
Summer Gese, home visitor
Parents as Teachers Program, Idaho North Central Public Health District, with the program for about three years.
“I started working with a mother at the beginning of her pregnancy. She had heard of our program through WIC. At our first home visit, the mother opened up and shared that she was a recovering addict. As soon as she discovered she was pregnant, she quit everything right away. She desperately wanted to be a great mom, but had no idea what to do. We met monthly during her pregnancy and talked a lot about preparing for birth and bringing baby home. We focused on stress management, safe sleep for baby, what to expect during pregnancy and birth. The mother stayed sober and would tell me every visit how proud she was to be able to quit everything and keep her baby safe. When the baby was 5 days old, the mother called me crying and overwhelmed and wanted me to visit as soon as possible. I saw her the next day and we discussed baby blues and the importance of having a support system. I saw her weekly for the next six weeks until the mother announced that she felt comfortable with motherhood and established a routine with her baby and could reduce the number of visits. Her baby is now 18 months old and is on track developmentally. Her husband has created a binder to keep all of the handouts I bring and they always look forward the visits. If they ever have concerns, the mother texts or calls me. She has told me numerous times that she does not know what she would have done without me or the program.”