By Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen, MPAff and Fernanda Ruiz, MSW | May 19, 2020
The stress of parenting through a public health crisis is universal – home visiting family support workers know this well. Children are upset that their routines have been disrupted – they can’t see their friends and teachers or even go to the playground. Meanwhile, parents are struggling with weightier worries about losing jobs, making rent, and buying food, not to mention trying to keep the family healthy. Some of these concerns are new, others are on-going, exacerbated by the instability wrought by the public health emergency. This moment makes it clear: more than ever, we must continue funding programs like home visiting that support families of young children.
A few weeks after DC residents were ordered to stay home, DC Councilmember Robert White tweeted, “My 3-year-old daughter just prayed ‘for the bad cold to go away from the school and for no one else to get sick.’ She misses her school, her friends and playing at the playground. Parents, this is rough. Any suggestions on what you’re doing to ease this pain for your kids?”
Coronavirus Amplifies the Stressors That Put Children at Greater Risk
As the strain of long-term isolation grows, families around the District are feeling the pain White describes, and then some. For some families, the pandemic has introduced or amplified the kind of stressors that put children at greater risk of abuse and neglect. In this moment, we are reminded that child abuse is the not the result of a single risk factor but the accumulation of risk factors and toxic stress. Research shows that home visiting programs are instrumental in helping families mitigate these challenges and preventing child abuse. This is critical because, in DC, one-third of children with confirmed cases of abuse or neglect are under age five.
My 3-year-old daughter just prayed ‘for the bad cold to go away from the school and for no one else to get sick’ … Parents, this is rough. Any suggestions on what you’re doing to ease this pain for your kids?
However, funding for these programs is not assured in DC’s fiscal year 2021 budget. DC currently offers 13 home visiting programs that reach more than 1,260 children and families; 7 of these are locally funded by DC’s Department of Health and Child and Family Services Agency.
Home visitors have become essential lifelines to families whose existing challenges are exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. Home visitors are already trained to support families managing difficult circumstances and facing a wide range of obstacles and threats. This skillset makes them well-positioned to support families in these extraordinarily tough times.
Our Skilled Home Visitors Are Now Making Virtual Visits
Quickly adapting from the traditional model of providing services around a kitchen table or a living room sofa, our skilled home visitors are now making virtual visits via whatever digital platform their families are able to use. While these visits typically center around helping parents understand child development milestones, advocate for their children’s educational and medical needs, and draw on resources for parenting and job assistance, current visits are colored by more urgent needs.
Research shows that home visiting programs are instrumental in helping families mitigate these challenges and preventing child abuse.
Home Visitors Help Families Access to Much Needed Food and Supplies
Both financial strain and lack of access are preventing families from getting food and supplies for their children and cleaning products to prevent spread of the coronavirus. Home visitors are finding creative ways to help families get critical household items such as diapers, baby wipes, sanitary products, and other toiletries. Home visitors connect families with food pantries, schools, and community organizations that are providing free food and often delivering food themselves. Some home visiting programs are providing emergency funds to families to help pay for transportation and are making safe, no-contact deliveries of supplies. These are a critical support in helping families navigate this unprecedented public health crisis and access the opportunities available to them.
Home Visitors Are a Vital Lifeline for Those at Risk of Harm
With existing challenges of food and housing insecurity, and added stress of families required to stay at home, comes the increase of domestic violence and community violence. Home visitors are a vital lifeline for those at risk of harm, as they are able to check in, link families with any updated resource they learn about, and track the safety of caretakers and children. The strong bonds home visitors build with their families and the consistent support they provide create a firm foundation that enables home visitors to help families through the extraordinary stress and hardship they’re currently experiencing. Our home visitors are not only providing families with what they need, but also stability, reassurance, and the knowledge that no matter how hard it gets, we will help them get through it.
Home visitors have become essential lifelines to families whose existing challenges are exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.
Even when home visitors don’t have a solution for every problem a family faces, just being there (virtually) and maintaining the trusted connection matters. Providing families with a safe space to share anxieties and feelings, validating those feelings, and offering strategies for managing stress is invaluable. Home visitors understand that the expectations and demands on parents have changed quickly and are able to educate parents about what their children might need now in this new reality. With the support of home visitors, parents can create new routines and structures that benefit the whole family and better understand how to respond positively to mood changes and unfamiliar feelings in their children. Especially in times of crisis, it’s essential for parents to feel confident in their ability to care for their children. Home visitors teach the skills and provide the support to strengthen that confidence.
In Times of Crisis, Parents Need More Not Less Support
The value of home visiting is clearer today than ever before. However, funding for home visiting programs to prevent child abuse and neglect is among the funding on the chopping block as the District looks to cut its budget in response to the economic damage done by COVID-19. This budget season, as the Mayor and the DC Council reckon with the impact of the pandemic, we must choose to put families first in our recovery and ensure home visiting is widely available – and fully funded – to support families in the midst of this crisis and through the economic recovery that will come next.