By Mary Green
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) – A nationwide program that helps tens of thousands of families each year give their babies the best start in life faces a key deadline coming up soon.
Congress has until the end of September to reauthorize the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, or services could be disrupted.
Earlier this year, hundreds of national, state, and local organizations forming the National Home Visiting Coalition sent a letter to members of Congress, urging them to reauthorize the program by the deadline and appropriate more money toward it over a five-year period.
Among them is Children’s Trust of South Carolina, which oversees this federal money for the entire state, distributing it to support over a dozen partner organizations.
“It’s a family support program that really visits with families in their own home and supports them in all different areas of ways that make them strong, healthy, and thriving,” Children’s Trust Director of Home Visiting Cathy Ramage said.
Home visiting programs support both the child and their caregiver, Ramage said, from during pregnancy to up until the child’s second or third birthday, with visits tailored to families’ specific needs. Visitors can typically include nurses and social workers.
For children, these visits may entail screening for developmental milestones, checking to ensure they are regularly seeing their pediatrician, and practicing early literacy so they are ready for school.
For caregivers, like new moms, it can include screenings for postpartum depression and support to continue their education or connect with job skills programs.
More than 27,000 South Carolina families have been served through the MIECHV program since it began about a decade ago, according to the Children’s Trust.
Most recently, that includes more than 1,100 children through nearly 18,000 home visits from October 2020 to September 2021. Children’s Trust said it relies 100% on federal funding for this program specifically, so services could be disrupted if Congress does not reauthorize it by the Sept. 30 deadline.
“We would like a timely reauthorization because it means we can plan for the future,” Ramage said. “It means we can continue services to families.”
Ramage said along with the reauthorization of the program, organizations including Children’s Trust are also asking for more money. The amount Children’s Trust is receiving right now from the federal government only allows it to serve 10% of the families it believes could benefit from this program in the state.
“We’ve been at level funding for 10 years, so we need an increased investment to do the work, to continue the quality work we’ve been doing, just based on cost-of-living increase, cost-of-doing-business increases,” Ramage said. “It’s just huge and so important for us to continue this work and to build off of what we have already.”
Children’s Trust reports the families served through the home visit program in South Carolina are among those with the greatest need, with nearly 90% of them living below 100% of the federal poverty line.
A report from the Pew Center on the States (PDF) found participating in home visiting programs can boost the likelihood that at-risk toddlers will later graduate from high school and can reduce abuse and neglect at home.