Two generations. One solution.
That's a simple way to explain the value of voluntary home-visiting programs that help both children and their parents lead healthier and more successful lives. As a business executive, I understand that strategic investments in children can help promote workforce development and economic growth both now and in the future.
In Kentucky, young, at-risk mothers and fathers who participate in Kentucky's Health Access Nurturing Development Services, called HANDS, are mentored by nurses or other trained professionals. They help parents understand their child's physical and emotional needs, the importance of a safe home environment, and how to cope with stressful parenting challenges.
This is why I am a champion for such home-visiting programs supported by the federal Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting program. These programs strengthen our economy and give our society a good return on investment.
They enable us to support and protect children from before birth through the earliest years of life, a time of rapid and crucial brain development. In fact, over 700 new neural connections form in a child's brain every second during those years. Those connections are the foundation for the academic and character skills that successful adults bring to our workforce that help make our businesses flourish.
Home-visiting programs can contribute to the development of a lifelong culture of health and well-being, and can even help teach young teenage parents the skills they need to raise themselves as they simultaneously raise their young children. Home visiting encourages these parents to pursue education and employment. That path can create a more productive workforce while also saving taxpayers money.
In Kentucky, evaluations of the HANDS program found that participants doubled their rate of employment and saw a 26 percent improvement in education over the term.
A recent report by the business-leader group ReadyNation cited a financial study that showed Nurse-Family Partnership programs achieved an average benefit of $17,000 for every family served.
With all of this in mind, there's good news and bad news about funding sources for home visiting. The good news is that Kentucky, backed by its business community, has supported voluntary home visiting for years and helped families around the state.
Now for the bad news: the federal funding that many programs also depend on is in jeopardy. The federal program, which has provided more than $32 million for home visiting in Kentucky since 2010, will expire on March 31.
We can't let this happen — because if it does, fewer Kentucky parents will receive a service that supports a healthy pregnancy, a foundation for academic achievement and a stronger economic future for parents, children and our state. Healthy Families America in Kentucky, through the HANDS program, currently serves over 3,000 families.
An end to the funding would also mean a step backward for our nation and our state as we attempt to build a productive workforce and improve the long-term health of our economy.
A two-generation solution — a solution that supports the physical and emotional health of children today while guiding their parents toward self-sufficiency — helps create a productive citizenry. I urge our elected leaders in Washington to renew their support for home visiting through an extension of funding so there are no harmful disruptions in services during these critical years.