CASA ASKS: How do home visits help prevent child abuse & neglect? 

May 6, 2013

This is the third post in a series of three from SCAN’s CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) Program, written by Lindsay Warner Ferrer. Lindsay is a CASA Case Supervisor and was previously a trained volunteer with the program.

One of the best ways to prevent abuse and neglect is through home visiting programs for new parents. There are many different programs, with varying levels of research evidence. These in-home programs pair trained nurses or paraprofessionals with new parents to help them develop parenting skills, access community resources and ensure their children are safe and thriving. Virginia communities offer many different home visiting models.

One of the most effective programs for preventing child abuse and neglect is the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP). NFP pairs low-income, first-time mothers with a trained public health registered nurse beginning in the second trimester of pregnancy and lasting through a child’s second birthday. Several high-quality, randomized control studies show that abuse and neglect can be cut in half among children whose mothers participate in NFP, compared to children whose mothers are left out. Children whose mothers participate are also less likely to later become involved in crime. Participating mothers have better prenatal health and are less likely to have closely spaced births than mothers left out. The first NFP program in Virginia was launched in 2012, thanks to federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program funding.

Another nationally established program, Healthy Families, can also improve outcomes for young children and their families. Healthy Families Virginia works throughout the state to promote positive parenting, improve child health, promote responsive parent-child interaction, and prevent child abuse and neglect among pregnant women and families of children under age 5. The most recent Virginia data show that over 90 percent of participating families received recommended prenatal care, were delivered at an appropriate birthweight, were connected to medical providers and were immunized. The FY 2011 statewide rate of confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect among program participants was only 0.7 percent, a very low rate for such a high risk population.

SafeCare is an example of a home visiting program that can help families who have already had an incidence of abuse and neglect or are deemed at a very high risk. A high-quality, randomized statewide study in Oklahoma found that adding SafeCare to the state’s existing child welfare in-home service program helped prevent repeat abuse. SafeCare reduced reports for neglect and abuse by about 26 percent compared to the same in-home services without SafeCare for parents of children ages 0-5. Few programs have had success with families with a history of abuse, making these results even more impressive. SafeCare does not yet operate in Virginia.

These are only a few of the many program models that can help Virginia families thrive and keep their children safe from abuse and neglect. Since 2006, the Virginia Home Visiting Consortium has been improving the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of early childhood home visiting services in the state.