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Clarion County Officials Discuss Benefits of Voluntary Home Visit Programs

Sunday, June 6, 2021 @ 07:06 AM

Posted by Aly Delp

Screen-Shot-2021-06-04-at-2.04.44-PMCLARION, Pa. (EYT) – Clarion County elected officials gathered virtually on Friday with Jefferson-Clarion Head Start administrators, parent educators, and parent participants to discuss the benefits of the county’s voluntary home visiting and parent coaching programs.

Pam Johnson, Executive Director of Jefferson-Clarion Head Start, Inc. provided an overview of the program, which serves 79 families living in challenging circumstances each year in the Early Head Start Program. Visiting parent educators help nurture healthy attachments for low-income families parenting infants and toddlers and for pregnant women and their families through intensive comprehensive child development and family support services. She also discussed how, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the program switched to virtual visits.

“The Early Head Start program we offer helps to strengthen families by capitalizing on parents’ strengths to helping them understand child development and build their parenting skills,” says Johnson. “Our staff and families have done an amazing job of connecting, whether virtually or in-person.”

Clarion County elected officials also joined the call, with State Representative Donna Oberlander, Clarion County District Attorney Drew Welsh, Clarion County Commissioner Ed Heasley, and Clarion County Children & Youth Services Administrator Teresa Holdren all sharing their perspectives of the difference that evidence-based home visitation programs make for county families.

District Attorney Drew Welsh noted that his interest in these programs started when he was young, as his mother was a Head Start teacher and director for a number of years, and then as an adult when his wife also previously worked as a parent educator and home visitor.

“It’s really invaluable,” Welsh said.

“The programs like Parents as Teachers and Head Start are so valuable because they’re proactive programs. They’re trying to prevent having the problems happen in the first place.”

Welsh said he often sees people in the criminal justice system who have grown up in situations where they had no positive role models.

“Home visitors going in present potentially one of the few positive role models for people in that kind of environment…and give them the tools that are necessary to make sure that a child is cared for and that they have resources moving forward.”

Those supports offered to individuals in need were a focus of much of the discussion.

“In child welfare, we rely heavily on community-based early education and prevention programs to support children and families in part, to reduce the risk of abuse and neglect with the hope that families never have to come to our attention,” Clarion County Children & Youth Administrator Teresa Holdren said.

“Programs such as Early Head Start are well documented to help achieve this goal by having a positive influence on parenting skills and child development.”

According to Bruce Clash – Pennsylvania State Director, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids – these anecdotes support a recent Fight Crime: Invest in Kids report “Increasing Public Safety with Evidence-Based Home Visiting” which explains the collective broad benefits of home visiting programs.

Clash noted the General Assembly initially created a competitive grant program for eligible providers in 2017, with $16.27 million in new state dollars invested in home visiting since the 2017-18 budget. Additionally, he is hopeful that the 2021-22 state budget will include a modest, $6.3 million increase for evidence-based home visitation and family support services including $2.4 million for Nurse-Family Partnership,
and $3.9 for the Community-Based Family Centers in the Department of Human Services.

Clarion County Commissioner Ed Heasley also voiced his support for the programs.

“The current system helps and supports both children and parents now, leading to less child abuse, neglect, and crime in the future,” Heasley said.

“From what I’m hearing and what I’ve seen, it is ‘Spend a little today and save a lot tomorrow.'”

Rep. Donna Oberlander noted that she has been supportive of the programs in the past and believes the legislature will continue to do what they can to financially support the programs, though she did not speak directly to Clash’s hopes of an increase this year.

“It is a challenging budget year. Yes, there is a lot of federal funding flowing in. Our concern is that it is one-time money, and we do not want to find ourselves in a deep deficit a year from now because we overspent.”

The legislature is currently in the budgeting process and looking at many line items in the budget, Oberlander noted.

Oberlander stated that she believes the budget will be complete by June 20.

Through the combination of federal and state funds, Pennsylvania is currently funding six evidence-based home visiting models that meet federal standards: Early Head Start, Parents as Teachers, Healthy Families America, Nurse-Family Partnership, Family Check-Up, and SafeCare® Augmented. Each program has established model-specific standards, accountability measures, and fidelity requirements. Each serves a different target population, has distinct characteristics, and meets families’ needs in different ways.

These six programs operating throughout Pennsylvania only reach about five percent of children (17,161 of 329,650) who live in households whose income is under 200 percent of Federal Poverty Income Guidelines. Clarion County is doing significantly better than the state overall, but still only serves 12 percent of children (128 of 1,080) in low-income households through Early Head Start, as well as the Parents as Teachers program.

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