Home visits in early childhood can lead to gains later, study shows

Home visits in early childhood can lead to gains later, study shows

(District of Columbia) Early childhood home-visiting programs increase at-risk children’s readiness for and achievement in school, but are often under-utilized, according to a recent whitepaper.

The Association of State and Tribal Home Visiting Initiatives highlighted findings from 33 studies examining outcomes of federally funded home visiting programs that aim to improve early childhood outcomes by reducing child injuries and maltreatment, and improving family economic self-sufficiency, among other benchmarks related to health, education and well-being.

The programs–which target low-income families and new parents–often include weekly or bimonthly meetings between a family or single parent and a nurse or social worker who can train parents in strategies to improve their own health, financial and educational outcomes, as well as their children’s.

“A child’s brain develops faster from birth to age five than at any other period in life, building the springboard for their future learning,” authors of the report wrote. “Home visiting is a vital strategy for improving children’s health, education, and wellbeing.

Still, only “3 percent of the children and families who are eligible for and could benefit from, home visiting currently have the opportunity to participate,” the researchers concluded.

In one of the studies analyzed in the report, researchers found that home visiting programs could improve early detection of developmental risks and link children to services before they enroll in school so that they don’t start off behind their peers.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, one in four children under the age of five in the U.S. has developmental risks or delays, and early detection is key to lessening the impact of developmental issues later in life. Yet research shows that fewer than half of children with delays are identified before starting school, and only 10 percent of those identified receive services.

In a study of 13 different home visiting programs serving 1,400 economically disadvantaged families across eight states, however, researchers found significant increases in children receiving support.

The percentage of children with an identified developmental concern that received support, for instance, increased 16 percentage points, while the number of children screened every six months for developmental delays jumped 18 percentage points.

The programs are part of the U.S. Maternal and Child Health Bureau’s Home Visiting Collaborative Improvement and Innovation Network, which emphasizes early detection of developmental risk and increasing links to community services for children in home visiting programs.

Gains were also made once students enrolled in school. Another study highlighted in the report–in which researchers at Yale University analyzed results of two groups of children in a large, urban school district in Texas–found long-lasting gains when parents where taught ways to help prepare their child for preschool and kindergarten at home.

Researchers looked at the long-term outcomes of children whose families participated in the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters program, which involves 30 weekly, hour-long home visits, during which parents are trained to carry out school readiness activities with their children.

The more than 500 children who participated in the program between 3- and 5-years of age were found to have higher rates of school attendance, lower rates of grade retention, fewer disciplinary problems, and higher scores on state reading and math tests at various intervals between grades 3 and 9.

Studies focused on other home visiting programs included in the report found childhood improvements linked to addressing postpartum depression in new mothers or substance abuse issues in the home, meeting the needs of teen parents, and helping families and single parents develop safer and more stable living environments.

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