Honoring Wyoming Families
By Josie Brittain
Here in Wyoming, we pride ourselves on honoring and empowering families. Parents are after all our children’s first and most influential teachers.
However, according to the annual KIDS Count Data Book, one in four Wyoming children experience trauma, neglect, abuse, violence or distressed family environments and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that put them at risk for poor health outcomes and poor academic achievement.
And as our state legislators scramble to find the money to close the large K-12 budget shortfall and best support Wyoming children and families, there is something that our federal legislators – especially Senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso – can do now to make sure our families are healthy and strong: support home visiting.
ACEs can be prevented or mitigated by the promotion of safe, stable and nurturing relationships and environments through home visiting.
Home visiting, an entirely voluntary program, helps parents in an environment they’re comfortable with and helps families at a time when they might need a little extra support to face the challenges in their home and with their child. It’s also evidence-based, undergoing scientific studies demonstrating that home visiting, among other things, improves prenatal care, early childhood health and development; increases school readiness and reduces child abuse, neglect and injuries.
In my role as a parent-educator through the Parents as Teachershome visiting program at Wyoming Citizens Review Panel, I focus on the parents, helping them engage with their child and empower them to set and reach family goals that set their child up for a healthier future and put their family on the path of economic self-sufficiency. I invite our senators to join me to witness first-hand the benefits of home visiting, and accompany me on a site visit.
If Senators Enzi and Barrasso experience a visit with me, I thinkthey will understand the urgency to take action now to reauthorize and expand the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) before it expires. MIECHV, a program with strong bipartisan support, along with states and private foundations, funds voluntary, evidence-based home visiting in Wyoming and across the country. They will get to meet the families I have – families who’ve developed a new real connection after periods of neglect, parents who have gone back to school or found new paths of economic opportunity, and military families stationed at Warren Air Force Base overcoming the isolation that comes when you live far from your support network or when your spouse is deployed.
For a state like Wyoming where we’re struggling to balance our state budget, investing in home visiting is crucial. For every tax dollar spent nationally on home visits, as much as $5.70 is returned to the community. Preventing and mitigating ACEs in the early years can help Wyoming reduce costs over the long term.
Our senators, especially Senator Enzi who serves on the Senate Committee on Finance, can lead the charge to renew and expand MIECHV in a way that provides stability for families and flexibility to states, and so that many more families with young children could benefit from this evidence-based intervention. The best path forward for families in Wyoming is for MIECHV to be renewed for five years, incrementally increasing its funding to $800 million.
Doing so is a smart investment in Wyoming’s families and empowers parents to make the best decisions for their own families. I hope Senators Enzi and Barrasso will take me up on my invitation and come see first-hand why home visiting is so important and why MIECHV needs their support.
Josie Brittain is a parent-educator at Parents as Teachers program operated by the Wyoming Citizens Review Panel, helping families in the Cheyenne area.