Next week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will vote on a motion aimed at “enhancing” and “expanding” the county’s patchwork of home visiting programs.
In L.A., like across the country, the concept of home visiting takes many forms. Generally speaking, home visiting programs provide at-risk mothers and their children access to nurses, social workers or other paraprofessionals who teach parenting skills, while also serving as a gateway to other services. Some programs start before a baby is born, while others focus on infants and toddlers. One hallmark is that all these programs are voluntary.
The motion, authored by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Janice Hahn, points to data showing that only 3 percent of California children ages 0 to 3 who are eligible for such programs receive services.
“Today’s motion is the first step in making strategic investments in Los Angeles County’s highest risk communities,” said Supervisor Kuehl in an email statement. “Together I believe we can prevent negative scenarios and create positive outcomes.”
While there are limited federal funds for a handful of vetted home visiting programs available throughout the state, Sacramento does not kick in any funding to support the practice.
Los Angeles taps into that federal funding, county dollars and funds made available by First 5 LA to support a network of programs like the Nurse-Family Partnership, Welcome Baby and Healthy Families America among others.
Welcome Baby is the largest home visiting program in the county. Funded by First 5 LA, it is available to all mothers who give birth in 14 hospitals scattered throughout the county. In the 2015-16 fiscal year, First 5 spent $34.1 million on the program and served 12,420 families.
The program screens mothers at their children’s births. Based on their risk factors, and whether or not they reside in the program’s catchment areas, mothers are offered a series of home visits, and referrals to other programs.
“This motion is an incredible opportunity to bring together multiple different funders to determine how we can better integrate services and streamline referrals to ensure that all families that are eligible receive services in a timely and effective way,” said Christina Altmayer, First 5’s vice president of programs. “We want to close gaps and barriers for families to receive services, and increase the availability of programs so more families can benefit from home visitation.”
Research cited in the motion suggests that investments in home visiting have a high return on investment. For example, a policy brief written by an advocacy shop called Children Now found that the Nurse-Family Partnership yielded public savings of more than $39,000 per family.
If passed, the motion would give the Department of Public health 180 days to coordinate with a wide array of other county agencies, working groups and researchers to come back with a six-point plan aimed at serving “more expectant and parenting families so that children are healthy, safe and ready to learn.”
This includes creating a coordinated referral system so that families can be paired with the best programs available; increased deployment of home visiting for children at high risk of entering foster care and maximizing revenue streams “through state and federal advocacy.”
The Board of Supervisors will hear the motion on December 20.