A child is abused or neglected every 41 seconds, more than 2,000 every day. All children should be raised in safe, nurturing, and loving families. It is a tragedy when children are victimized by abuse or neglect. The physical or emotional scars from such experiences can sometimes last a lifetime if not treated. They can prevent children from learning in school and make young people more vulnerable to violence and alcohol and drug abuse. It must be an urgent priority to strengthen the web of child and family supports to keep children safe, prevent problems before they occur, resolve problems that do happen before they become crises, and prevent the recurrence of maltreatment.
Infants are the most likely to be victims of abuse and neglect. Nearly one-third of all child abuse and neglect victims are under age four. A very important piece of the new health reform legislation — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — signed into law by President Obama in March will help strengthen the critical web of support for the most vulnerable young children and their families. If we are able to achieve effective child-friendly regulations and implementation, it will help 95 percent of children in America access health coverage and help them grow up more healthy, ready to learn, and able to become productive members of society. The new health reform law also established a number of important prevention initiatives, including the Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. Early childhood home visiting programs provide voluntary, in-home services to families with young children beginning prenatally and going up to kindergarten entry age.
Trained home visitors including nurses, social workers, and early childhood education specialists meet with families in their homes to help advise them on their children’s health and development and acquiring skills that will help their children grow and thrive. They also connect families to a broader range of community services and supports. Studies have found quality home visitation services produce measurable outcomes for children and families that are real and lasting: better health; greater school readiness, academic achievement, parental involvement, and economic self-sufficiency; and reduced child maltreatment and injuries and juvenile delinquency. Programs such as the Nurse Family Partnership and Healthy Families America have prevented child abuse and neglect by helping parents better understand their children’s development, thereby preventing inappropriate expectations of the children and inappropriate discipline.
The new health reform act establishes a $1.5 billion five-year federal grant program that will guarantee funding for voluntary quality evidence-based home visiting programs. Pregnant women and expectant fathers; parents; and grandparents, relatives, foster parents, or others who are serving as primary caregivers for a child from birth to kindergarten age may participate in the program. States must give priority to certain “high-risk” children and families defined broadly to include families living in communities identified in need of services; low-income families; pregnant women younger than 21 years old; families with histories of child abuse or neglect and/or involvement with the child welfare services; families with a history of substance abuse, in need of treatment, or who use tobacco products in the home; children with low student achievement and/or developmental delays or disabilities; and families who had a member serve in the Armed Forces.
Every state can apply for grants through this program. Each must show how they will measure improvements in the prevention of child injuries, child abuse, neglect or maltreatment, and reduction of emergency department visits, as well as other improvements in maternal and child health, school readiness and achievement, family economic self sufficiency, and reduction in crime and domestic violence. Making a variety of quality home visiting programs more widely available is a crucial step forward in protecting children. For more information, visit http://staging.childrensdefense.org/library/data/new-investments-to-help-children-early-childhood-home-visiting-program.pdf.