Bringing a new child into the world is an occasion for joy — but also a complex and demanding experience. Child-rearing challenges are exacerbated for families that face difficult circumstances such as poverty, single parenthood, or drug addiction. The lack of proper supports for these families can lead to a multigenerational cycle of hardship. The law enforcement leaders of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids see first-hand how such a cycle impacts public safety in our communities.
On the other hand, Fight Crime members have also seen the benefits that evidence-based home visiting programs can provide. These programs provide “parent coaching” from a trained professional, starting as early as pregnancy and extending into the first few years of a child’s life — years during which the human brain goes through its most rapid development and is most vulnerable to the negative repercussions of adverse experiences. Through periodic home visits, parents are equipped with the tools and skills they need to stimulate and nurture their child’s development and avoid harmful parenting practices.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the role that home visiting professionals play in the lives of families, as they pivot to visits through phone and video calls. These professionals have served as a lifeline to families who are isolated from other means of assistance, conducting needs assessments and connecting parents to necessary services and supports.
Home visiting also has benefits that extend well beyond the family. High-quality programs for families facing adverse conditions can reduce parental involvement in crime, lower rates of abuse and neglect, boost the ensuing academic achievement of participants’ children, and help curtail abuse of substances such as opioids in the long run. They can also strengthen the economy by fostering families’ financial independence and helping children become productive adults. When parents take advantage of the resources available through voluntary home visiting, entire communities can benefit.
Illinois already has taken some positive steps on which we can—and should—build on, starting with a strong tradition of bipartisan support for evidence-based home visiting programs in both the Illinois Department of Human Services and through the Early Childhood Block Grant Prevention Initiative. The work of the Illinois Prenatal to Three (PN3) Initiative and the Illinois Commission on Equitable Early Childhood Education and Care Funding represents a significant step forward towards reaching more families with evidenced-based home visiting. By 2025, the PN3 Initiative recommends expanding home visiting services to reach an additional 15,000 children and families, implementing a number of measures to strengthen and expand the early childhood workforce, and extending universal newborn supports to reach 31,000 more families. Additional federal, state, and local resources will be needed to meet these goals, and one avenue other states have successfully pursued is securing Medicaid funding for home visiting services. Illinois needs to do the same.