Investment in home visits invests in our future

By William Townley, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty Healthcare Attorney
(This op-ed appeared in the Albuquerque Journal)

Every parent knows that having a new child is incredible and wonderful, but also one of the most stressful endeavors anyone can ever hope to undertake. In New Mexico, about 27,000 children are born each year. Many of these newborns are the sons and daughters of first-time parents who are just embarking on a lifetime full of joys and the greatest of challenges.

Every child deserves the best start from birth. We know that the earliest years of our children’s lives are the most important in their social, emotional and cognitive development. Nurturing our youngest children is key to ensuring they grow up healthy and prepared to succeed in life.

But parenting is hard. And it can be especially daunting for parents who have little in resources.

Home-visiting programs can be of great help to new families, providing support and critical assistance that ranges from health care to emotional and social supports at a crucial time in a child’s brain development. 

This legislative session, our leaders have an opportunity to expand Medicaid-funded home visiting to more families statewide. Services that more New Mexicans could access include checking on the development and health of the child, screening mothers for post-partum depression, supporting breastfeeding, and connecting families to community activities.

New Mexico is already moving forward with a pilot home-visiting program for Medicaid eligible families in Bernalillo County starting in January 2019. Curry and Roosevelt counties will join the pilot later in the year. 

This pilot will implement two different models of evidence-based home visiting, Parents as Teachers and Nurse-Family Partnership, which have been found to produce higher educational and health outcomes for children. Both models measurably reduce birth complications, infant emergency medical care episodes, as well as incidence of child abuse and neglect, and successfully encourage young parents to pursue higher education and job training.

There has never been a more opportune time to invest in our children. The pilot program leverages federal funding to cover about 70 percent of the costs. If our Legislature expanded the program, our state would be able to leverage the same percentage and New Mexico could offer home visiting programs at a fraction of what it would otherwise cost the state.

For every dollar we invest in home visiting, New Mexico can save between three dollars and six dollars in remedial costs. Home visiting establishes a strong foundation for families where children can grow up healthier and safer, and parents can develop stronger parenting skills for the years to come.

We call on our governor-elect and state lawmakers to expand Medicaid-funded home visiting to all New Mexican families. We ask that you pick up the phone and do the same.