An Evidence-Based Approach to Helping Families Navigate Children’s Early Years

By Kate Tromble

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Under normal circumstances, 380,000 children are born to first-time mothers living in poverty every year. Many of these women face multiple health risks including: heart disease, depression, intimate partner violence, substance use, inadequate nutrition, and even death. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 22% of women in the U.S. do not begin prenatal care as early as they should, with rates rising to 33% for African American and American Indian and Alaska Native women.

During the COVID-19 health crisis, which has profoundly changed family life across the country, families, particularly those families who have been held furthest from opportunity by the inequities in our healthcare and social systems, face even more significant burdens such as illness, death of loved ones, job loss, and the disruption of critical support services, not to mention fear and anxiety. Low-income communities and communities of color have been disproportionately affected by the virus, so improving their health and economic well-being is key to recovery.

Governments have a moral imperative to fund programs that work to open opportunities for all families. Healthy families are more likely to pursue their education, secure well-paying jobs, and engage with their communities and utilize less public resources (e.g., emergency room visits or social services calls). One approach that evidence has shown helps women navigate these challenges is the Nurse Family Partnership (NFP) home visiting program — where trained professionals support expectant families during pregnancy and the child’s first few years. NFP and other evidence-based home visiting programs improve maternal health, child health, and the economic self-sufficiency of their families.

“The MIECHV program has had a profound impact on expanding Nurse-Family Partnership to serve more moms and babies,” said Frank Daidone, president and CEO of Nurse-Family Partnership. “It’s smart policy that funds what we know works to improve outcomes for families in poverty and change communities all across the country. Unfortunately, the program only reaches a fraction of eligible families. We hope that the program can be expanded soon, so more families can benefit.”

Results for America’s newest Impact Snapshot tells the story of how the federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program combined with state home visiting programs expanded the reach and impact of NFP’s model, allowing it to serve more families. We spotlight Florida and Tennessee, but they are just two examples of how, all across the country, taxpayer dollars, when shifted toward evidence-based solutions like NFP can help improve the lives of families.

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As Congress and the next administration look toward crafting a recovery package that will help families and communities build back from Covid and its accompanying challenges, they should take a lesson from states like Tennessee and Florida. The dollars invested in NFP have been proven to yield significant positive results for families, the basis of all communities. Those kinds of results are critical if we are going to recover from the current health and economic crisis, and Congress and the new administration can put a thumb on the scale in favor of families by prioritizing investments in evidence-based programs like NFP in the next recovery or stimulus package.

Kate Tromble is the Vice President for Federal Policy at Results for America.

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Working with decision-makers at all levels of government to harness the power of evidence and data to solve the world’s greatest challenges.

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