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How does someone become a good parent? What does that even mean? And how do you acquire the wisdom, patience and intuition that every child needs their parent to possess?


These are the essential, age-old questions that every parent — especially first-time parents — have asked for generations. And the truth is, finding answers is easier for some than for others. If you’re young or a single parent, financially stressed or your life is in flux, the challenge becomes even greater.

That’s why the U.S. Senate’s decision on April 14 to renew the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program stands out as so important.

The MIECHV program supports parents of children from birth to kindergarten, giving those parents access to resources and allowing them to hone the skills they need to raise physically, socially and emotionally healthy children. The Home Visiting programs receiving federal funding in Oregon include Early Head Start, Healthy Families America, and Nurse-Family Partnership. Local programs such as CARE Inc. in Tillamook or Nurse Family Partnership in Lincoln County have demonstrated tangible, evidenced-based results, not the least of which is a clear connection to reducing child abuse and neglect by up to 40 percent across our state. Programs in other states have achieved similar results. In every case, the up close, hands-on approach has clear benefits, not just to the recipient family but for our entire community.

Last year in Oregon, more than 10,600 children were abused or neglected. Nearly half were children younger than 6 years old. Research shows that when parents lack support for basic needs, social connections and knowledge of child development, their children are at greater risk for poor health outcomes, educational attainment and workforce productivity in the long term.

That’s why MIECHV remains a good investment. For every $1 spent on home visiting, up to $5.70 is returned by avoiding or minimizing more costly interventions in the social welfare, mental health, and juvenile corrections systems. Instead of paying for these costly and negative outcomes further down the road, Home Visiting programs start children and families off on the right foot, setting them up for successful outcomes and productive futures.

That’s the accurate but all-too-sterile justification for these programs. More powerful justification comes from real life.

Here’s one, from a Healthy Families Oregon of Clackamas County caseworker:

John got custody of his new baby girl after she spent months in the hospital being carefully weaned off of the drugs her mother had taken while pregnant. John already had a toddler at home and was driven to a near breakdown by the additional responsibility and challenge of being a single father. Healthy Families Oregon of Clackamas County home visiting program stepped in, providing a home visit once each week. The caseworker arrived each time with tips, advice, as well as connections and other resources.

It helped John at the most critical and stressful time of his life.

“I really needed some help and support,” John said. “And that’s what I got. But I needed it in a relaxed and practical way. You can’t read a parenting book when you’re sleep deprived or when you’re bottle feeding an infant or when you’re trying to cook lunch for a toddler.”

In addition to the practical advice and answers to the how-to questions, John was able to refine his ability to listen to and talk to his kids; how to play and encourage learning; and how to set and maintain healthy routines.

All available research supports early and focused intervention. The same research documents a long list of positive results for both the children and parents. But the United States lags in that regard. In Canada, for example, all new mothers receive a home visit after the birth of each child.

When Congress passed H.R. 2 and President Obama signed it into law on April 16, it was a historic day. In addition to a needed improvement in the formula for paying Medicare physicians and other health care providers and extending the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the law also carried a two-year extension of MIECHV. That encouraging news and the federal action should also prompt the Oregon Legislature to invest in home visiting for the first time in a decade. An infusion of $10 million would ensure that 1,000 more children have the best possible start in life.

Oregon’s most vulnerable children and families deserve the best in life — these federal investments are moving us in the right direction, and with every step forward, we improve the odds that our newest Oregonians and their families will realize their full potential. That benefits all of us.

Susan A. Lindauer is executive director of the Children’s Trust Fund of Oregon. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Reach U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) at www.wyden.senate.gov/contact/.

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