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Critical home visiting program requires reauthorization this fall

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Funding for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program  expired Sept. 30

Funding for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV), a federal state partnership used by counties to enhance early childhood development, expired last week on Sept. 30. Although funding has expired, this does not mean Congress has given up on passing legislation to reauthorize the program. Without congressional reauthorization, critical evidence-based home visiting programs that strengthen high-risk families may be terminated or see lapses in funding. MIECHV-funded programs are in place in every state and operate in 893 counties.

Last week, the House passed two pieces of legislation reauthorizing the MIECHV at its current funding level of $400 million for five years. And in the Senate, a bipartisan bill was introduced also reauthorizing MIECHV at its current funding level for five years. However, while the House and Senate bills do contain have similar provisions, there are several differences that will likely create some debate between the two chambers.

Now that the House have passed their bills, they will move to the Senate for a vote.

In 2010, Congress established MIECHV to facilitate federal, state and local collaboration to improve the health of at-risk children. The home visiting programs connect families to necessary services and monitor child developmental progress. Congress funded MIECHV at $400 million in FY17.

MIECHV plays a critical role in counties’ ability to provide vital services that parents and children need to ensure a healthy upbringing and living environment.

In FY16, the MIECHV program funded services in 35 percent of all urban counties and 23 percent of all rural counties. Counties also serve as nearly one-quarter of MIECHV Local Implementing Agencies (LIAs).

Hennepin County, Minn.

In Hennepin County, an urban county with 1.2 million residents, MIECHV has played a crucial role in providing funding for at-risk families with children, prenatal to age 3. Over the past five years, the county has received more than $2.5 million in MIECHV funds and served nearly 600 families.

With MIECHV funding, Hennepin County was able to increase their implementation of Healthy Families America (HFA), a program model that meets the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) criteria for an evidence-based program model. Through HFA, Hennepin County implemented the Hennepin Healthy Families (HHF) program, which provides supportive home visiting services to vulnerable residents, including first-time parents, teen mothers and mothers experiencing post-partum depression.

HHF helps families develop the knowledge, skills and confidence to meet the needs of their babies. The program provides a broad range of services, including: support during pregnancy and early years of parenting; information sharing about a baby’s growth and development; and connecting families with community resources.  The Minneapolis and Bloomington Health Departments within Hennepin County have also received MIECHV funding to support HFA.

In addition to HHF, MIECHV funding has also allowed Hennepin County to narrow its focus to very high-risk families. In collaboration with the Hennepin County Mother Baby Partial Day Hospital, referrals are made by Mother-Baby program to Hennepin County home visitors. These clients are pregnant women and mothers of young children who are experiencing depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders or other emotional distress. This home visiting program provides basic parenting and attachment skills and monitor the mothers’ progress in managing mental health concerns. Because of MIECHV funding, Hennepin County home visitors have served approximately 50 families who have used the Mother-Baby Day Hospital.

Beyond Hennepin County, MIECHV has brought together a whole group of communities that are dedicated to improving the lives of young children and families. For example, Hennepin County along with eight other counties and one municipality formed the Metro Alliance for Healthy Families (MAHF). The counties involved in MAHF provide HFA and offer family home visiting and other community resources to families. The alliance has the potential to serve half of the births in the state.

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