Study shows home visit programs reduce child abuse, neglect

Prevention, education addresses root causes of violent crime

Reducing child abuse and neglect through evidence-based home visiting not only aids in children’s cognitive and emotional development, it reduces crime, according to a new report.

The report, from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, "Reducing Child Abuse and Neglect Through Evidence-Based Home Visiting, shows that home visit programs work. They provide parent coaching from trained professionals, helping young parents with support they might otherwise not have.

Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, Maywood Police Chief Valdimir Talley, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois State Director Tim Carpenter and Illinois Policy Associate David Isaacson spoke about the importance of the home visit program – and its need for more money and support – in a Zoom news conference Tuesday.

“Today we are here to take a stand for families across our state,” McMahon said. “Any parent – in fact, every parent in Illinois, even those with a lot of support – can tell you it’s a tough job raising children. For some new and very young parents, that support can be very hard to find.”

McMahon said the coronavirus pandemic is adding to the challenges of parenting.

“This past spring, I reported that while overall, Kane County felonies were down for the months of March and April, cases of child abuse and neglect had increased by 139%,” McMahon said. “This statistic sadly reflects the additional hardships and stresses that families are experiencing in a state where, unfortunately, there are over 30,000 children who were substantiated victims of maltreatment in 2018.”

From a law enforcement perspective, strong families and families that support them are critical to public safety, McMahon said.

“I’m a firm believer that effective law enforcement can cut violent crime, the criminal justice system treats the symptoms of violent crime, not the root of the problem,” McMahon said. “If we are serious about ending the violence that plagues far too many communities across our state, we have to take the long view and address the root causes of violence. Among these causes, unfortunately is child abuse and neglect.”

According to a national study, children who experience abuse and neglect are twice as likely to commit a crime by the time they reach the age of 19, McMahon said.

Stopping a multi-generational cycle of violence rests on getting parents the support they need by preventing child abuse and neglect, McMahon said.

In releasing the new report, “Reducing Child Abuse and Neglect Through Evidence-Based Home Visiting,” McMahon said he and others were drawing attention to the programs that improve families’ lives, and provide long-term solutions to the violence problem.

Dart praised the organization, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, which has nationwide and bipartisan support among 5,000 law enforcement leaders that includes 350 police chiefs and state’s attorneys in Illinois alone.

“The organization looks at the research at what reduces crime and violence in our communities. The evidence is startling – it’s so clear. … That is, prevention is the key solution," Dart said. "There is no way arresting your way out of problems. Prevention, education – that’s the solution.”

Teen Parent Connection

Case in point, the news conference included Maria Medina who received support from Rosy Barrera, a home-visiting professional in the DuPage County Teen Parent Connection program. She learned about the program when she was 2 1/2 weeks pregnant.

“It was too good to be true, honestly," Medina said. "I didn’t know there was an organization out there willing to help a young parent strive to be a better parent and do better in the world, to be honest with you.”

Medina said her life would have been tremendously difficult without the support of the program.

“Me and my husband would have had a divorce and I think that – honestly – I would not be standing here today without them. They helped me get a job … they helped me understand my kid when I needed support the most,” Medina said.

“Me being a young age, 19, it is very difficult to put myself in my son’s shoes at times. So they have definitely helped me learn more about him as he continues to grow,” Medina said.

Illinois programs

Several funding streams contribute to home visit programs, Carpenter said, but the primary one is $16 million in the Illinois Department of Human Services, as a line item for Healthy Families and Parents Too Soon.

“That line item has been frozen for at least 10 years,” Carpenter said. “They serve about 3,500 families.”

Another funding stream is the Illinois State Board of Education Block Grant that goes for some home visiting programs that serve children from birth to 3 years old, Carpenter said.

Some federal money from the Maternal and Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, which has had steady funding for the past eight years, he said.

“All told, about 19,000 slots for home visiting in Illinois. Our goal over the next five years is part of the (Prenatal to Three) Initiative is to almost double those – to add another 15,000,” Carpenter said. “We think that will meet the current demand. … We are also concerned that there are 17 counties in Illinois that have no home visiting at all. That’s an obvious gap we would like to close.”

Illinois programs that are researched-based are Baby Talk, Healthy Families, Nurse Family Partnership, Parents Too Soon and Early Head Start.

Data vs. funding

While the data is solid, the funding not so much, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dart said. His department is facing huge budget cuts.

“Ten percent of my budget is going to be cut, just to get through this year and God knows what next year will be like?" Dart said.

Without federal support, programs will collapse, Dart said.

“Our point in doing this (press conference) is the data gets old restating it, cause it’s so rock solid, everyone understands it,” Dart said.

“That is why we are doing this … if we don’t advocate for this right now, we can bank on it we will be forgotten. If there is not a federal component here, we really are sort of talking to ourselves," Dart said. "The state won’t have the money to give out, the county and locals won’t have the money to give out.”

Dart said the nation is the midst of a once-every-hundred-years pandemic, which requires the intervention of the federal government to support the states and locals. And by doing that, Dart said, these local home-visit programs will be supported as well.

“Our message cannot be silenced or we will be forgotten,” Dart said.