Children deserve action from Congress on Home Visiting program

After 43 years in banking, I have learned a thing or two about investing. Get in early, for one. Look for long-term value. Don’t make assumptions; get the facts. Any good money manager knows these basics. Yet as a nation, we often seem to forget these simple economic principles when it comes to investing in our most important asset, our children. If we are to remain competitive, that must change.

One way to steer us on a better path is to support home visiting. We can start by urging Congress to reauthorize and expand the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, which expires in September.

This program is built around the same principles as solid investment strategy: Start working with children as early as possible. Believe that even in the toughest circumstances, parents want to and are capable of being transformative for their children if they have the right tools. Commit to the process, rather than throw money at it and hope for the best.

Voluntary home visiting begins during a child’s earliest years, with many programs starting at birth or before. Nurses, parent educators, and family support professionals guide expectant parents toward regular prenatal doctors visits and good health and nutrition. When the baby is born, home visitors coach parents on how to be the best possible nurturers, caregivers and role models they can be.

At the root of home visiting is the belief that all parents have the potential to thrive and set their children up for success, regardless of other challenges they face, be it addiction, poverty, a history of trauma or simply lack of experience being parented themselves. Parents and home visitors talk about, share and study everything from why reading to a baby matters to how to help that child make transition in the toddler years, as well as how to achieve parents’ personal goals, such as completing school and obtaining employment.

Bankers trust numbers and the numbers say this works. To be funded through MIECHV, home visiting models must provide scientific evidence of effectiveness. That evidence is rock-solid. Pregnant home visiting participants are more likely to access prenatal care and carry their babies to term. Children show improvements in early language and cognitive development, as well as in early academic achievement. Parents enrolled in home visiting have higher monthly incomes and are more likely to be enrolled in school and employed.

These results are the first step to improving the rate of college attendance and graduation in Idaho. From there, we will see improvements in wages and decreases in unemployment as Idahoans are able to qualify for more skilled jobs. And Idaho will see an economic boost from the taxes these working citizens will contribute. It’s a simple but solid investment strategy. It is time for Congress to act.

Mike Mooney retired recently after 43 years in banking. He serves on the Governor’s Higher Education Task Force.