While I was still in the hospital after the birth of my daughter in October 2014, a woman came to my recovery room. She was my knight in shining armor.
At the time, I felt stuck in an unhappy marriage, and I’d lost any sense of self-worth that I had. But the woman who came into my room that day opened the door to new possibilities, introducing me to Healthy Families America, an organization that provides home visiting to help families thrive.
Two-and-a-half years later, thanks to the women, first Libby and then Sasha, who came to my house each week, I’ve left my marriage, enrolled in college, earned my first medical license as an Emergency Medical Technician and am on track to become a paramedic. I became a confident parent who had a better understanding of what I was doing. Home visiting gave me the routine my family needed. Programs, like the one that helped me, pair parents looking for additional support. Mentoring families with trained home visitors such as nurses, social workers and educators, help lay the foundation for the health, education, development and economic self-sufficiency of the entire family.
None of that would have been possible without my home visitors. Across the country, home visiting models like Healthy Families America are supported in part by a little known federal program called the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV). Along with investments from states and private foundations, MIECHV supports voluntary, evidence-based programs, which means they’ve undergone scientific studies to demonstrate that they improve health and education of children. MIECHV’s funding in Oregon is directed by the state, which analyzed our local needs to ensure they were being met. And, as it did for me, home visiting helps parents achieve their educational and career goals, putting them on a path of self-sufficiency.
Unfortunately, MIECHV is only able to help a fraction of the families who could be served by home visiting. In Oregon, 219,100 families could benefit from home visiting. These are families with single or teen moms. They are families that have parents who do not have a high school diploma or who are low-income families. And they are families with children under the age of 1.
However, only 3,038 families in Oregon can receive home visiting services at the current funding levels.
To make matters worse, unless our congressional leaders act, MIECHV is set to expire on Sept. 30, potentially creating a bigger disparity between the number of families who receive home visiting and the number who could benefit from it.
In June, I had the opportunity to share my story with Congressman Greg Walden of Oregon, in Washington, D.C., to advocate for MIECHV and to make sure that more families like mine get the life-changing opportunity that I did.
When I spoke with Walden, I asked him to make sure MIECHV got renewed for five years so that states, home visitors and families all have the stability they need from the program, while keeping the flexibility states need to best provide resources for their citizens. I asked him to push to double the funding for MIECHV to $800 million so that more Oregonians could have the same opportunity to thrive that I did.
Both Walden and Sen. Ron Wyden should lead the effort to renew and expand MIECHV because everyone who needs and wants a home visitor should be able to have one.
It’s thanks to my home visitors, Libby and Sasha, that I’ve been able to give my kids more opportunities than I had as a child, and for that, I will forever be grateful.
— Christine Pinkerton lives in Medford and is a graduate of the Healthy Families America Program.