By: Sommer Mitchell

Did you know that early models of home visiting have been around since the 1800s?  It was part of the initial kindergarten movement that was funded by philanthropic groups.  These groups taught young children in the mornings and did home visiting in the neighborhoods in the afternoons.  These early models were designed to educate families about child-rearing and how to use toys to stimulate learning and to build community and family relationships.  Teachers acted as advocates for families with landlords, local stores, and even the government!  Though the concept of home visiting has been around for quite some time, with positive outcomes being measured in child development, economic self-sufficiency, juvenile delinquency, and family violence, it’s no wonder these programs are gaining popularity.

Zelenna Piñon began her journey with home visiting as a secretary working for the Healthy Start program in Deming, NM.  When she had her first child in 2013 she did not think twice about seeking services for herself and her daughter.  “Even when you live and breath early childhood, it is not so easy to practice what you preach at home” says Zelenna.  She remembers fondly that the home visitor truly cared about all the exciting experiences she was having as a new parent. Speaking candidly about her struggles as a working mom, Zelenna recalled sometimes feeling like she was only able to meet her child’s most basic needs.  “If not for the home visitor, I don’t know what kind of parent I would be.  I would not have been able to make these informed decisions about development and nutrition, not to mention all the staff development I have been able to take advantage of. I am just so grateful.”

Zelenna is now the Program Administrator for “Parents as Teachers” in Deming, and is still participating with her son who will graduate from the program in July.  “As Program Administrator, it was a slight challenge at first to identify roles during visits, but I did not give myself special treatment or pretend that I knew everything.  I was able to take off my supervisors hat and only be a mom. “My home visitor will bring up an activity that I can be working on, and the light bulb goes off!  Sometimes it’s hard to stop and think of ways that I can be helping and encouraging my child’s development.”

Gratitude for the program continues to grow as her son progresses.  Having been through the Early Intervention Program as an employee, she could recognize right away that her son was struggling.  The doctors encouraged her to wait to seek services, but when she saw he was not meeting the nine-month milestones, she referred herself to the program.  The progress was immediate.  When asked about a pivotal moment in her participation, she recalled an instance during a filmed parent observation activity when her son first started.  She remembered her son having a strong adverse reaction to the combination of sound and the movement from a necklace she was wearing.   He was extremely distraught and not able to process.  The same test conducted one year later showed that he was like a completely different child.  The impact was enormous because both events were recorded and they’ve been able to draw a parallel comparison.

Zelenna’s is just one of the many inspiring stories surrounding home visiting.  There have been many studies measuring the outcomes of home visiting programs over the past 30 years, and the evidence of effectiveness is clear.  States started funding home visiting programs in the 1980s and have continued to pass legislation to expand programming and increase accountability.  Today, home visiting programs operate in all 50 states!  Participation in these programs is voluntary, completely free, and available to anyone with young children.  There is often the misconception that these programs are only for low-income families or for the developmentally delayed, but this is not true.  Zelenna shared with us that there are teachers, judges, lawyers and business owners participating in the program.  She continues “I feel every pregnant mom needs a home visitor.  Doctor visits go so fast and sometimes you can’t get all of your questions answered.  The visitor can be that person that explains things the doctor did not have time to.”  They help you navigate the early childhood systems and find resources.  Could this 200-year-old partnership between families and home visiting be the missing link that ties together and coordinates all of our early childhood efforts?