I have been with the Bettendorf Police Department for more than 40 years. I and many people on our police force still find child abuse neglect to be among the most difficult crimes we deal with. Fortunately, we have an opportunity to reduce these crimes, improve the lives of children and families, and save taxpayer costs as well.
That solution is voluntary home visiting for young, inexperienced parents who benefit from sound guidance on how to deal with the many stressful situations that arise with young children. Here in the Quad-Cities and around the nation, home visiting programs offer these young moms and dads help from nurses and other trained professionals who provide in-home personal coaching from pregnancy through the first years of their children’s lives.
In addition to showing parents how to make homes safer while supporting their children’s emotional and physical well-being, these home visitors also promote family stability by inspiring the parents to continue their education and gain productive employment.
The need for this is especially dire here in Iowa, where there were 7,877 confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect in 2015 alone. While police officers and others who come into contact with these kids on the job struggle to address our emotional responses to this, we also know can be long-term ramifications for the kids and society as well.
In fact, research cited by the law enforcement organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids shows that children who experience abuse or neglect are twice as likely to commit a crime by age 19, compared to similar children who have not been abused or neglected.
So here’s the good news; home visiting provided by our many social services providers here in the Quad-Cities and the state of Iowa, can greatly decrease child abuse and neglect. Crime related statistics for young women in at-risk families are staggering. By age 19, girls whose parents did not receive home visiting, had nine times more convictions than girls of families who received home visiting. Similarly, mothers who did not receive home visiting averaged three times more convictions than mothers who participated.
Home visiting benefits not only individual families, but communities. A study of the Early Head Start program found demonstrable impact with mothers who received home visits increased their earnings by $3,600 per year, likely because the program provided education and job guidance. A cost-benefit analysis found that high-quality home visiting saves up to $6,000 over the lifetime of each child.
The impact of fostering self-sustainability among families is reflected in welfare savings of $14,000 per family over a decade. Furthermore, of federally supported home visiting programs, 85 percent demonstrated improvements in family self-sufficiency last year.
The federal home visiting program or the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program comes up for re-authorization this fall. The evidenced-based, local approach program has enjoyed bipartisan support since inception.
Three-quarters of the funding provided by MIECHV focuses on programs scientifically proven to work, with up to a quarter reserved for innovative approaches with promising solutions for young families.
Our own U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley has long been a champion of the program and we look to his leadership again this year. It is imperative that the U.S. Congress not only reauthorize the program, which currently provides $7 million for home visiting in Iowa, but expand it, so more vulnerable children and families receive the coaching they need to get on track for healthy, productive lives.
Simply put, we can invest in this program now, or pay much more later in costs for public safety and a staggering loss of human potential in the years to come.