Dr. Hilary Becker

Dr. Hilary Becker

Strong families are the foundation of our communities, and children from strong families have a greater chance of being healthy, productive, law-abiding citizens. Parents are, of course, their children’s primary teachers and influence. But sometimes parents look for help. That’s when evidence-based home visiting programs can fit in.

Ask anyone who has ever been a parent and you will hear that parenting is the most rewarding, but toughest, job anyone ever had. Many parents benefit from strong family supports and more-than-adequate resources to support them in this critical role. However, for some parents — many of whom are young and/or of modest means — parenthood is much more complicated.

In Lancaster County, there are two evidence-based home visiting programs recognized to give parents and others raising children the support necessary to improve the health, safety, literacy and economic security of the family. They are the Nurse-Family Partnership and Parents as Teachers.

Home visiting programs can also play a role in addressing the opioid epidemic, which is impacting children and families here in Lancaster County.

In home visits, nurses and other trained professionals engage with a pregnant woman or mother and provide education on how to avoid relapse, the risk of which is high in the immediate postpartum period. Home visitors encourage recommended steps to ensure a healthy pregnancy and baby with the guidance of other health care professionals, support prevention, treatment and recovery. While home visiting is not a treatment program and should not be used as an alternative to treatment, it can be a helpful tool in strengthening families grappling with substance-use disorder — adding another layer of much-needed social supports.

When parents participate in this program, they don’t just come away with more resources on how to be successful with their children — their behaviors change. Children are safer, and children are healthier.

Unfortunately, not everyone who could benefit from these home visiting programs in our community has access to them.

The county data is alarming. Of the 18,030 children under the age of 6 in Lancaster County, only 641 are being served by evidence-based home visiting programs designed to impart their families with the tools necessary to raise healthy children.

Children who experience trauma — also known as adverse childhood experiences or ACEs — face great challenges as they grow into adults. Supporting families through evidence-based home visiting programs proactively battles the consequences of growing up in at-risk homes. Not only do evidence-based home visiting programs benefit the families and communities they serve, but they are also a smart public investment.

These are a few of the reasons I’m urging our state lawmakers to grow the state investment in publicly funded, evidence-based home visiting programs by $5 million in the 2019-20 state budget. It would help about 800 more families and children build the foundation for a successful future.

From identifying postpartum depression to helping deal with substance-use disorders, these programs empower families to make proactive, positive choices that prove beneficial to healthy development. The good news is that evidence-based home visiting programs can positively impact the lives of these young families, building confidence and imparting them with the tools necessary to overcome many challenges — so they can successfully raise their children.

For more information visitchildhoodbeginsathome.org/about.

Hilary Becker is a retired pediatrician from Beittel-Becker Pediatric Associates and a member of the Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital Nurse-Family Partnership Community Advisory Board.