If I had a million dollars….

Have you ever played the game, What would you do if you won a million dollars? No, I don’t really need a nicer car, a fancier house or even more vacations. I would like a safer and healthier community for children to grow up in though.

As we wind down April and Child Abuse Prevention Month, I hope you won’t quickly forget the challenges that children and parents in our communities still face. Why wouldn’t we want to equip parents with the skills, knowledge and support they need to raise children in a healthy and safe environment? Why wouldn’t we offer parents this support BEFORE they find themselves in a situation where they’ve caused harm to their child? Why would we assume we have an innate ability to be good parents? I don’t think we do.

I don’t have kids of my own, but am responsible for the care of many through my work—I’m also an uncle and I’m a godparent. I know many parents and even have two of my own. While I have great parents, I think even my own parents, who ventured into parenthood at the ages of 18 and 20, may have appreciated having someone alongside them, teaching them about child development, parenting skills, self-care and other issues that are so important in safely raising children.

Such things exist today; they’re called evidence-based home visiting programs. These programs match parents with trained providers who share information and offer support during pregnancy and throughout a child’s earliest years.

According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, home visiting programs have been proven to cut instances of child abuse almost in half, ultimately preventing placements in foster care. We could use some prevention of child abuse and children coming into foster care in Missouri, with currently more than 13,000 children in foster care compared to 10,000 children in 2010.

In addition to home visiting programs preventing child abuse, Pew reports improved physical health for children whose families receive home visiting, especially when services are provided prenatal or soon after birth. Some of the positive health outcomes include decreasing incidence of low birth weights and reducing emergency room visits. Research also shows that participation in home visiting programs has a positive educational impact for children, along with positive education and employment outcomes for participating parents.

If the positive impact home visiting can have on children isn’t enough, we can consider its value from a “cost” standpoint. There are many “costs” associated with child abuse—the emotional cost to the child, long-term costs to society in the form of healthcare, social services or incarceration. We know the average cost for a child in foster care in Missouri is more than $20,000 per year, while the cost to provide home visiting services to a child and his or her family averages just $5,000 per year.

For me it’s a no-brainer: if I had a million dollars, I’d spend it on home visiting programs!

This blog post is part of A Healthy 10.

A Healthy 10

Health Forward Foundation
2300 Main Street, Suite 304
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 241-7006