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Parents-babies visiting program works

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An Albuquerque-based home visiting program for first-time parents and their babies has demonstrated that such efforts can greatly improve educational and social outcomes for the children later in life.

A study of Catholic Health Initiatives’ St. Joseph’s Children home visiting program, led by Paul Guerin, senior research scientist at the University of New Mexico Institute for Social Research, found that the program “could be a model for other states in providing high quality service to children.”

Guerin – with the assistance of Ph.D. candidates Alex Adams and Shannon Youngman-Sanchez and UNM staff member Alex Tonigan – conducted the two-year study on behalf of CHI to determine if its home visiting program, with nearly 500 client families, follows evidence-based practices.

The St. Joseph’s program tracks mostly disadvantaged babies up to 3 years old and their parents in Bernalillo, Luna, Sandoval, Torrance and Valencia counties, providing preventative education and counselling on parenting and other services.

The researchers found that a large home visiting program like St. Joseph’s Children can deliver services that provide first-time parents with a curriculum for health and school readiness. The CHI program is one of the largest in the country.

“The significance of this finding cannot be overstated,” said Allen Sánchez, CEO of Catholic Health Initiatives’ St. Joseph’s Children. CHI, as the nation’s second-largest health care provider, should “set the bar,” he said.

Guerin, Sánchez and more than a dozen mothers and a few fathers and their squealing babies met with reporters and others Wednesday to extol the virtues of the program. One parent, Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, explained how the program benefitted his wife in breast feeding their first child.

One young mother, Rachel Garcia, said the program educated her on employment, school and parenting.

Another, Maria Voldovinos, told the gathering how her home visitor explained, step-by-step, how her baby was developing in utero and, after the child was born, what she should expect and how to respond.

“We believe that if you change the first five years you change everything,” the program’s website states. Last spring, the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee observed that “Rigorous research has demonstrated that evidence-based early childhood programs can improve education outcomes. In many cases, the benefits to taxpayers and society from these programs far outweigh the costs.”

Evidence-based early childhood programs, the LFC said in its Results First Report, “promote healthy early development and lay the foundation for greater achievement, economic productivity and responsible citizenship. … Cost-benefit analysis shows investment in high-quality early childhood programs produces future savings by reducing remediation needs in public and higher education, special education, juvenile rehabilitation, juvenile and adult criminal activity, and welfare assistance. ”

Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, sponsor of a constitutional amendment that would expand such services by using 1 percent of the interest on the state’s land grant, urged the adults in the room to support his proposal.