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Michele Baranaskas: Restore cuts to family education

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If you're a parent or a child's caregiver, you've probably wished that children would come with instructions. Guess what? We actually have a service in West Virginia that helps families raise young children. In-Home Family Education has been available for more than 20 years. Families in 30 counties have access through three research-based national or regional models: Healthy Families America, Maternal Infant Health Outreach Workers and Parents As Teachers.

In-Home Family Education (inhomefamilyed.com) is a voluntary program that provides parenting education and support to families prenatally and while children are small. These community-based home visiting programs build protective factors, enabling families to deal more successfully with whatever challenges arise, thereby reducing the need for more costly services.

Strong, nurturing relationships at the beginning of life can buffer children from the effects of adverse experiences. In-Home Family Educators help parents understand their role as their child's first and most important teacher. They provide information and support in such areas as prenatal care, child health, child development, behavior and early learning and literacy. Using a strengths-based approach, In-Home Family Educators provide linkages to medical and social services and help families develop and work toward their own goals for the future.

There are no income guidelines to enroll. It is free to families, and supported by public funding. Inexplicably, after Gov. Tomblin appointed an Early Childhood Planning Task Force made up of concerned citizens and parents, and after this same Task Force made a recommendation of expanding In-Home Family Education statewide, Governor Tomblin is proposing to cut state funding of In-Home Family Education 25 percent, from $1 million to $750,000. In addition, cuts are proposed to other valuable community-based services to families with which In-Home Family Education programs collaborate: Family Resource Networks, Family Resource Centers, Children's Trust Fund grantees, Domestic Violence programs, and Child Advocacy Centers. Cuts to all of these programs would come to nearly $1 million.

I realize that most if not all state agencies and contractors are being cut at least 7.5 percent this year. However, there are some increases in the governor's budget.

West Virginia is fortunate to receive federal funding for In-Home Family Education through the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program. However, in the eyes of federal funders, cutting state investment in these services does not shine positively on West Virginia.

Consider the national data that supports In-Home Family Education or Home Visiting. Babies with low birth weight require more expensive care, and may experience more developmental delays. Pregnant mothers who received a home visit during the first four months of their pregnancies had 75 percent fewer low birth weight babies than those who didn't receive a visit. Home visiting programs can reduce the rate of child abuse and neglect and involvement with Child Protective Services by half. Children who received home visits were 56 percent more likely to graduate from high school than children who didn't receive home visits. If children enter school safe, healthy, ready to learn, succeed and graduate on schedule, doesn't that sound like an investment in economic development? For more national and state research that supports In-Home Family Education, go to wvpartners.org/research.php.

Supporting infants and toddlers is critical because their earliest experiences shape their brain architecture, laying the foundations for later learning. Without positive experiences that create strong foundations, learning gaps appear early, sometimes detectable before a child's first birthday. Disparities widen as children grow. By age 2, these toddlers are behind both in cognitive and social-emotional measures. By the time they reach pre-kindergarten, they're playing catch up, not moving ahead. Through In-Home Family Education, babies start on a path of learning and discovery that determines how confidently they step over the kindergarten threshold.

All babies and toddlers in West Virginia need a strong start in life if our state is to prosper. Babies who miss out on key ingredients for strong development today will never get these years back. They simply can't wait. We need investment in, not cuts to In-Home Family Education. If you agree, please sign my petition at: petitions.moveon.org/sign/halt-cuts-to-community.

Baranaskas, is coordinator for Partners in Community Outreach, the coalition for research-based In-Home Family Education programs in West Virginia.

 


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