By Rep. Kathy Swan
There are numerous benefits to raising children in rural communities, ones surrounded by wide open space for little ones to play, learn and explore their worlds. As every parent knows, witnessing the wondrous explorations is one of the blessings of parenthood. Yet, parents not only experience joy and magic while parenting, but frustration and exhaustion. In rural communities, the wide open space can also exacerbate stress. Fewer helping hands and persistent poverty, facts of life in much of rural Southeast Missouri, compound and magnify every stressor. That is why home visiting – matching parents who want support with professionals who can help them do their very best for their children – is vital in rural communities. Unfortunately, those services, having already been stretched thin, are further threatened. Our U.S. Congress has the ability to ensure that evidence-based home visiting is available for those in need. The clock is ticking.
Home visiting literally meets parents where they are – which is often quite a distance from pediatricians, libraries, and even grocery stores with fresh, healthy food. Each visit is tailored to help families work through child-rearing issues, such as prenatal care, childbirth, sleep, nutrition and transitions. Parents are provided with research-based information and activities to help children grow and learn. All children in the program receive health and developmental screenings. In addition, families are invited to participate in group connections. While some interventions may seem low-tech, they are truly common sense, sound interventions proven to work, having met high standards of academic rigor and study.
Two successful models are currently at work in Southeast Missouri: Parents as Teachers and Nurse-Family Partnership. In Dunklin County and throughout the state of Missouri, Parents as Teachers shares knowledge with families and improves parenting skills, helping children to enter school healthy and ready to succeed. In working with pregnant mothers in Pemiscot County, the Nurse-Family Partnership strives to increase birth weight and reduce premature delivery, dramatically improving health outcomes for newborns.
Positive outcomes such as these break the generational cycles of poverty. Setting the stage for success in life begins with healthy newborns and children who are ready to learn in school. Knowledge and the right resources empower parents to grasp their own potential in providing for and doing what is best for their children.
Home visiting is a low-cost, high-return investment. Our state supports home visiting, as do philanthropies and local governments. Our federal government is a valuable partner, as well. Federal funding is available through the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program (MIECHV) which funds as much as 30 percent of all home visits nationwide. However, this funding will expire at the end of September if Congress fails to act. Families currently benefiting from home visiting programs will falter and new families in need will be turned away.
Please encourage Congress to reauthorize MIECHV and provide expanded resources for Missouri children and families. We need their help to break the cycle of poverty and despair, so that all children in Missouri may have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential.
Rep. Kathryn Swan is a Republican representing Cape Girardeau and part of Cape Girardeau County in the Missouri House of Representatives where she chairs the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee