Letter to Director Laura Green Zeilinger of the Department of Human Services

action alert


 

December 1, 2021

 

Director Laura Green Zeilinger

Department of Human Services

64 New York Avenue, NE 6th Floor

Washington, D.C. 20002

 

Dear Director Zeilinger: 

 

During the recent DC Council Committee on Human Services Roundtable, Councilmember Janeese Lewis George asked you a question about the frequency of DHS staff referring families with children to the District’s home visiting programs funded by DC Health. You responded that you didn’t know very much about the city’s home visiting programs, so, as Chair of the DC Home Visiting Council, we want to share some information with you about this critical set of family strengthening programs that can be of great support to families with children throughout the formative early childhood years. 

The Home Visiting Council is a body of home visiting programs, early childhood leaders, advocates, government agencies, and managed care organizations  who convene to strengthen the District’s home visiting system within the broader early childhood space. Home visiting is an effective and evidence-based strategy that supports the healthy development and well-being of children, expectant parents, and families. The District currently has 16 home visiting programs. The complete list of programs is in the HV Council’s annual report. These programs follow a variety of models, including well-known national models such as Parents as Teachers (PAT), Healthy Families America (HFA), Early Head Start, and Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool (HIPPY), but also several mixed models and curriculum as well. 

The availability of different models allows the District to address a spectrum of needs for families. While some programs focus on navigating medical and health needs for expectant parents, other programs primarily focus on building parenting skills or improving school readiness for children. The unique value of home visiting services is that home visitors are flexible and prepared to address a combination of these focuses by providing individualized support. This tailored support helps families reach their specific goals and build confidence in navigating challenges independently in the future. Participating families often experience complex needs, and they may seek to grow in several areas in their parenting journey. Home visitors can guide families through these barriers. 

Thirteen organizations carry out the District’s 16 home visiting programs. Ten of these programs are publicly funded. Eight programs receive local funding, either from DC Health or Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA). DC Health provides funding to five programs: Georgetown’s Parenting Support Program, Mary’s Center’s HFA program, Mary’s Center’s PAT program, Community of Hope’s HFA program, and Mamatoto Village’s Mothers Rising program. CFSA provides funding to Mary’s Center’s Father-Child program and Community Family Life Services’ Parent Education and Home Visitor Program. 

Last year, these programs reported to the Home Visiting Council that they could serve 1,362 children and families and served 1,277 families. We will release an updated number for 2021 in our upcoming annual report. 

This information aligns with the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development (GUCCHD) report for Health Resources and Services Administration’s MIECHV needs assessment. Using the Child Opportunity Index and HRSA data, GUCCHD found a wider range of neighborhoods with families that could benefit from home visiting services. While the MIECHV programs primarily focus on Wards 7 and 8, the data reveals that the need extends beyond those regions. This data shows a gap of 811 between the number of home visiting slots in the District (1,347) and the number of families eligible for services based on federal criteria (2,592). Given that federal eligibility guidelines are more restrictive than most program models, this gap between program availability and potential demand is likely higher.

 The full report can be found here. 

The report also found systems-level gaps in DC home visiting and included several recommendations: 

  • Home visiting services reach families with complex needs and often cannot resolve every challenge. More interagency coordination is necessary for families to be fully supported. 
  • Home visiting programs struggle with staff turnover. Local capacity to train staff could help. 
  • Home visiting programs do not have uniform measures across the District to report their data, leading to difficulties with evaluation. The report recommends the Home Visiting Council continue exploring a common metric for programs to use. 
  • More data is needed around the impact of virtual home visits, what eligible families seek in a program, and more exploration around connecting eligible families who could benefit from a home visiting service or a different approach. 

Overall, home visiting programs are an integral part of the early childhood system in the District. These services have been particularly valuable during the pandemic. They help families acquire basic needs, access other benefits provided by the District, cope with elevated stressors to prevent child abuse and neglect, and build skills that help parents care for their children and themselves as best as they can during a difficult time.

Home visiting, as a strategy, is also an effective way to connect families to other District services they may need. As mentioned, many home visiting families experience complex challenges that home visitors can address but not necessarily resolve on their own. Housing, for example, is a significant and prevalent issue among home visiting families. Most of the District’s home visiting programs work with families who have experienced homelessness or housing insecurity. Similar to GUCCHD’s recommendation, improved coordination between agencies like DHS and DC Health and partners working in this area would be an excellent opportunity to lessen these challenges for the District’s families. 

We would be happy to meet with you to discuss this connection further. 

Sincerely, 


Kimberly Perry

Executive Director

DC Action

 

Nisa Hussain

Program Manager

DC Home Visiting Council

 

December 2, 2021