Early-childhood home visits work: Iowa’s multi-state collaboration makes it even more effective.

Family support specialists are currently working in Iowa and other states

November 16, 2023 8:00 am

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I believe American families are strong, resilient and extraordinary. But that doesn’t mean they can’t use some help. After all, raising a family is not always easy.

As the director of Early Impact Virginia, I work alongside more than 500 family support specialists in the commonwealth, trained professionals who go into homes every day to support pregnant and parenting families.

In its simplest form, home visiting works to ensure parents have the resources and skills to be their child’s first and most important teacher. You’ll find family support specialists in thousands of homes across the country; they sit at kitchen tables and on family room couches, even on living room floors playing with toddlers as they work side by side with caregivers. Their goal: to improve parenting skills and enhance early childhood development. Research tells us it’s one of the most effective strategies for strengthening families and improving maternal and infant health.

A multi-state partnership is making home visiting even more effective by equipping home visitors with the skills they need to support today’s families. In 2018, Virginia, Iowa and a coalition of higher education partners launched the Institute for the Advancement of Family Support Professionals. The Institute provides a nationwide online training program for home visiting professionals.

Iowa and Virginia: Unlikely partners?

On the surface, Virginia and Iowa may seem like unlikely partners. With more than 1,100 miles separating our state capitals, with contrasting economies and divergent geographies, the two states can seem worlds apart. Yet, thanks to strong bipartisan support and a shared commitment among innovative human service professionals, the Old Dominion and the Hawkeye State recognize the promise that home visiting holds for unlocking a family’s strengths and a child’s potential. And as a byproduct, the two states are investing in smart, efficient strategies to build their workforces.

There is sound research undergirding this investment in home visitation. In 2010, the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program was authorized by Congress to improve health and development outcomes for children through evidence-based home visiting programs.

The legislation funneled millions of dollars to states to bolster proven home visiting models. But until the launch of the Institute, there was no centralized training program to support the thousands of home visitors entering the industry.

Both Virginia and Iowa quickly recognized this need and came together in a unique partnership to realize a shared vision for home visitors. By pooling resources, our two states accomplished what we could not do alone: provide a fully accessible training and credentialing system for home visitors working in our two states. This pioneering model, validated in real-world situations during the pandemic, has led to national recognition and has emerged as a crucial resource for other states.

Today, the training system is used by more than 34,000 human service providers across the country. Home visitors enter the profession with different strengths and starting points, and the Institute helps them fill knowledge gaps. Created by home visitors for home visitors – and with technical and production support from the University of Kansas and James Madison University – the no-cost tool is helping improve the quality of home visitor services while reducing turnover.

And we continue to learn. The lessons shared through the Institute are helping create a fuller understanding of how public funding can be used differently, in ways that address shared needs and build a strong home visiting workforce. Congress is helping accelerate the momentum by investing in comprehensive workforce development strategies through the creation of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Home Visiting Workforce Development Center.

We are proud to be part of this effort, which honors the late Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, whose passion and advocacy for home visiting propelled national attention to the issue.

Home visiting works, and its ripple effects have been transformational, helping strong, resilient families and the communities they live in reach their full potential. Let’s make sure we continue investing in smart, innovative approaches to equip our workforce with all the knowledge and skills needed to bring this invaluable support to more families.

It’s a goal that will benefit not only the families themselves, but us all.

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Laurel Aparicio

Laurel Aparicio is executive director at Early Impact Virginia, an organization dedicated to ensuring that all pregnant and parenting families have access to high-quality, early childhood home visiting, how and when they choose.