SC organization urges Congress to expand home visiting program for babies and caregivers

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – A national program that helps tens of thousands of families each year give their babies the best start in life faces a key deadline ahead.

Congress has until the end of September to reauthorize the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, or services could be halted.

Earlier this year, hundreds of national, state and local organizations forming the National Home Visiting Coalition sent a letter to members of Congressurging them to reauthorize the program before the deadline and allocate more money to it over a five-year period.

Among them is Children’s Trust of South Carolinawho oversees this federal money for the entire state, distributing it to support more than a dozen partner organizations.

“It’s a family support program that really visits families in their own homes and supports them in all the areas that make them strong, healthy and thriving,” said Cathy Ramage, Director of Home Visiting for Children’s Trust.

Home visiting programs support both the child and their caregiver, Ramage said, from pregnancy through the child’s second or third birthday, with visits tailored to families’ specific needs. Visitors can usually include nurses and social workers.

For children, these visits can involve screening for developmental milestones, checking in to make sure they see their pediatrician regularly, and practicing early literacy so they’re ready for school.

For caregivers, like new moms, this can include screenings for postpartum depression and support to further their education or connect to job skills programs.

More than 27,000 South Carolina families have benefited from the MIECHV program since its launch about a decade ago, according to the Children’s Trust.

Most recently, this includes over 1,100 children through nearly 18,000 home visits from October 2020 to September 2021.

Children’s Trust said it is 100% dependent on federal funding for this particular program, so services could be cut if Congress does not reauthorize it by the September 30 deadline.

“We would like a timely re-clearance because it means we can plan for the future,” Ramage said. “It means we can continue services to families.”

Ramage said that in addition to reauthorizing the program, organizations such as Children’s Trust are also asking for more money.

The amount Children’s Trust currently receives from the federal government only allows it to serve 10% of the families it believes could benefit from this program in the state.

“We’ve been at the funding level for 10 years, so we need increased investment to do the job, to continue the quality work that we’ve been doing, just based on the rising cost of living, the cost of doing-business is going up,” Ramage said. “It’s just huge and so important for us to continue this work and build on what we already have.”

Children’s Trust reports that families served by South Carolina’s home visiting program are among those most in need, with nearly 90% living below 100% of the federal poverty level.

A Pew Center report on the states found that participation in home visiting programs may increase the likelihood that at-risk toddlers will later graduate from high school and may reduce violence and neglect in the home.

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