As a parent, the experience of holding your child in your arms for the first time is difficult to put into words. The young life you cradle seems so fragile and yet, your bond so strong. So many thoughts and feelings swirl through your head and your heart, and perhaps even a moment of panic sets in as you think to yourself: I’m not ready for this.
Parenting doesn’t always come naturally and it certainly doesn’t come with an instruction manual. For some, parenting can be confusing and overwhelming. For others, they may lack the financial resources, family stability, or skills to build positive, nurturing relationships with their young children.
Those circumstances can sometime lead to the neglect and abuse of a child. Preventing abuse before it happens is critical. Some of the most important brain development happens in the first year of life, when abuse rates are at their highest. And Oregon’s abuse rate is only 2% lower than it was in 2003, despite a 25% reduction nationwide over the same period.
Home visiting programs can make a big difference. That’s why advocates are asking Oregon lawmakers to invest an additional $10 million in Healthy Families Oregon, Oregon’s statewide family support and coaching program. Currently only 15% of low-income children are served by the program. An additional investment would allow the home visiting professionals to train and support more parents and serve many more children.
“Voluntary home visiting programs such as Healthy Families Oregon reduce child abuse and neglect, prepare kids for school, and increase the positive connections between parent and young child,” says Martha Brooks, the Oregon State Director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids and ReadyNation.
Home visiting programs support families with children from birth to age three by helping them access resources, set goals, and develop skills they need to raise children who are on track developmentally and emotionally. Families who participate are visited regularly by trained home visitors who bring tools and activities, track progress, provide support and practice skills with families.
“The programs help increase family self-sufficiency, lower health care costs and prevent child abuse and neglect. They also lead to reduction in crime and domestic violence,” says Marina Merrill, Senior Research and Policy Advisor at Children’s Institute. In fact, home visiting has been shown to save at least $2 in future spending for every $1 invested in the programs.
“Decades of research on home visiting programs show that these programs work,” adds Merrill. “The services focus on the critical first few years of a child’s life.”
That may not be an instruction manual for struggling parents, but it’s a pretty good start.