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Proud of work to combat child maltreatment

Richard Goldinger

In my time as District Attorney for Butler County, I’ve been incredibly proud of the work we’ve done to combat childhood maltreatment. I’ve had the privilege to work with the Butler County Alliance for Children and Butler County Children and Youth Services to help children in at-risk environments in our community. While we’ve taken great steps toward ensuring the safety of every child in our county, there is still more we can do.

Fortunately, we have a tool that has proved instrumental in combating childhood maltreatment — the federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program (MIECHV). Unfortunately, unless Congress acts, this funding stream is set to expire at the end of September.

For more than a decade, MIECHV has supported families expecting a new child, as well as parents with young children who have been identified as high risk or in high-priority communities. These families can face risk factors that prevent them from achieving the best outcomes for their children and for themselves.

MIECHV provides funding for state governments and other authorized organizations to implement evidence-based home visiting models that provide support to families who could most benefit. These programs are entirely voluntary, and those who opt in receive regular visits from trained home visiting professionals such as nurses, social workers and parent educators who mentor and provide information to parents about their child’s early physical and emotional development. These programs also provide tools for parents to manage stress, effectively address behavior problems and connect with resources within their community. Ultimately, these programs can help put families on paths to self-sufficiency.

Home visiting programs have proven to be a vital lifeline in combating childhood maltreatment. According to a just-released report by Council for a Strong America, the longest-running home visiting study followed participants of the Nurse-Family Partnership home visiting program and demonstrated that, by age 15, children in the program had half as many verified incidents of maltreatment as children in the control group who did not participate.

Despite the proven effectiveness of home visiting programs, MIECHV in its current form lacks the adequate funding to help all the families that need it most. In Pennsylvania, only 2,859 of the highest-priority families are served by MIECHV, not even 3% of those who could benefit from it.

In our current economic crisis, many might be concerned about spending more money on a federal program, but MIECHV is economically efficient because every family that participates in the program is low-income or has other “identified high-priority needs.” A study of the Nurse-Family Partnership program found that families that participated reduced their use of welfare benefits by an average of 10% each year compared to non-participants, which added up to $14,500 in the decade following the program. A study of the Early Head Start home visiting program, which operates in Butler County, shows that mothers who participated boosted their average annual earnings by $3600 following participation. Studies of other programs show that they yield a positive return on investment.

These benefits are not permanent, however, since funding that is available through MIECHV is set to expire at the end of September. If Congress doesn’t reauthorize this funding, more than 2,000 at-risk families in Pennsylvania will lose access to these benefits of evidence-based home visiting programs, and thousands more will never access them.

In order to help improve public safety and the lives of at-risk families and children in Pennsylvania, we need to not only renew but revitalize and expand MIECHV to ensure home visiting programs can reach as many families as possible. If we don’t, we’ll be taking a massive step backwards in our fight to protect children in our state and across the country.

Richard Goldinger is the district attorney for Butler county and a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.

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