Guest Opinions

This program supports young Idaho families, but unless Congress acts it will end

Patricia Kempthorne.
Patricia Kempthorne.

Scientific research on how children learn and grow has made it clearer than ever that parents are the most important teachers and families are the most effective ‘schools.’ With Mother’s Day here, Father’s Day soon after, and the clock ticking on family support programs in Washington, now is the time to put that research into practice. After all, Mother’s Day brunch lasts an hour. Flowers last a week. Investing in strong families is a gift that last a lifetime.

The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program is such an investment. This flexible, locally administered program, also known as MIECHV, expires in September unless Congress acts. Idaho, which does not invest in home visiting, cannot afford to let this happen.

Home visiting is rooted in the understanding that children are born to learn; that there is potential for magic in every moment, from the first day of life to the first day of school. Some home visiting programs work with special populations, such as teen moms or families living in poverty. Others emphasize prenatal care. I have been involved for many years with Parents as Teachers, which my husband championed as governor. Parents as Teachers supports parents’ ability to nurture children’s early development, learning and health.

Home visiting is as individual as the families themselves. Some parents benefit most from learning activities to play with their children. Others seek information and options for child rearing that is outside their own experience. Parents look for advice on transition, routines or nutrition. Some benefit from family-community events. All of us want to do our best for these little beings who take over our lives, who we love more than we thought possible and who confound us every day.

The outcomes can feel like small miracles. A home visitor helps a family find appropriate health screenings and a toddler who appeared to be willfully misbehaving is found to have hearing loss. A pair of hearing aids later and that little boy avoids years of being labeled as inattentive at school, with all that such labels lead to and imply.

All MIECHV-supported home visits are voluntary, meeting parents where they are, literally and figuratively. And all MIECHV-supported home visiting is evidence-based — meaning programs have undergone rigorous studies that prove they work.

Among the known outcomes: Children enter school ready to learn and succeed. Seventy percent of MIECHV supported programs demonstrated a reduction in crime or domestic violence.

Eighty-five percent of MIECHV-supported programs demonstrated improvements in family economic self-sufficiency. All the MIECHV models show strong return on investment, including Parents as Teachers, which has an estimated benefit-cost ratio of $3.39 per dollar invested.

You don’t have to be a mother to love these results — scientific theory, matched with rigorous, studies, proving that home visiting works. Now we need investment in MIECHV to put all this theory to work as widely as we can. That’s a gift all Idaho mothers would appreciate.

Patricia Kempthorne is the founder and CEO of the Twiga Foundation and the former first lady of Idaho. She is the vice-chair of the board of directors at the Parents as Teachers National Center.