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Home visiting programs can build the future

We New Mexicans have a lot to be proud of.

Personally, I take pride in my family. I take pride in my business. I take pride in my community.

Family. Business. Community.

I want the children of New Mexico to grow up with the best possible family lives. I want these kids to be able to have the tools they need to contribute to the workforce down the road. I want them to be productive members of society and an asset to their community.

For many families, the path to achieving all of that begins with voluntary home visiting programs.

New Mexico’s evidence-based, voluntary home visiting programs connect nurses and other types of qualified, trained professionals with young, at-risk parents in a mentoring relationship. The professionals meet with parents in the parents’ homes, helping them learn how to understand the needs of their child and manage the stress of parenting. This is vital for making homes safe for children, both physically and emotionally.

Home visiting begins before the baby is born and continues through the first few years of the child’s life, a period of irreplaceably important brain development. In fact, over a million new neural connections form in a child’s brain every second during those years.

The overall goal of home visiting is to make sure babies are born healthy, and, then, that children are nurtured, ready for school, and connected to formal and informal supports within their communities. These voluntary programs benefit children and parents alike. This “two-generation” approach helps ensure that both children and their parents can achieve better outcomes.

The research shows us how. For example, a study highlighted by the business-leader group ReadyNation revealed that a program called Every Child Succeeds reduced infant mortality by 60 percent. Research on the Healthy Families America program showed that 27 percent fewer children required special education in first grade when compared to children who didn’t participate. Another program, the Nurse-Family Partnership, cuts child abuse and neglect in half. Meanwhile, research on the Early Head Start program showed that parent coaching boosted mothers’ average annual earnings by $3,600.

Here in New Mexico, there are 30 programs that serve 28 of the 33 counties in our state. Almost 40 percent of our state’s home-visiting recipients are 25 or under, and of those for whom we have income data, more than two-thirds had an annual family income of $20,000 or less. In 2016, these programs served 2,738 New Mexican families, with home-visiting professionals making nearly 47,000 visits.

Unfortunately, the need for home visiting programs far exceeds even these impressive numbers.

We should support greater funding for evidence-based, voluntary home visiting programs in New Mexico. As we work toward eventual full funding, we should back the $1.5 million increase that the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee has proposed in its budget recommendation.

The positive impact of high-quality home visiting programs on children during the prenatal-to-three period can be life-changing – or even life-saving. Making a commitment to support these programs would not only stabilize more vulnerable New Mexican families, but it would help at-risk children with their first steps toward academic and career success, all the while strengthening the fabric of communities throughout New Mexico.

Healthier, safer, more productive children and adults.

We can all be proud of that.

Adelmo “Del” Archuleta is Owner & President of Molzen Corbin, former Chairman of the Board for New Mexico Mutual and for the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, and a member of ReadyNation.

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