HHS Expands Program That Sends Social Workers Into Homes of 'At-Risk' Children

By Susan Jones | September 9, 2013 | 7:31 AM EDT

The Obama administration is spending $69.7 million to expand its Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - The Obama administration is spending $69.7 million to expand its Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, which sends nurses and social workers into the homes of families to improve maternal and child health, child development, school readiness, economic self-sufficiency, and child abuse prevention.

The grants, funded by the Affordable Care Act, are going to 13 states that have implemented "high-quality" home visiting programs.

“These awards support states in their efforts to expand and improve home visiting support services for our most vulnerable children and families,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in announcing the awards, which range from $1.4 million to $7.2 million per state.

Families must voluntarily enroll in the program to get the home visits.

Since the program was enacted in 2010, it’s been implemented in 544 communities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five territories to serve about 15,000 families so far.

Two years ago, when HHS announced it would spend $224 million under the Affordable Care Act to support home visitation programs, Sebelius said the goal was to get children off to a strong start. "Parenting is a tough job, and helping parents succeed pays big dividends in a child’s well-being and healthy development,” she said at the time.

The nurses and social workers work with families to "evaluate their circumstances," help parents learn the skills they need to promote the healthy development of their children, and connect families to the kinds of help that can make a "real difference in a child’s health, development, and ability to learn."

According to HHS, research shows that home visiting programs can improve outcomes for children and families, including improving maternal and child health, reducing child maltreatment, increasing parental employment, and improving the rate at which children reach developmental milestones. HHS says it conducted an "exhaustive review" of different home visiting programs to identify the models that have been shown to work.

The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program provides voluntary home visits for eligible families "who welcome education and support to strengthen their relationship with their infants and young children" (up to age 8). The program also helps to ensure that women have a healthy pregnancy.