LA supervisors want to beef up home visitation programs

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Two Los Angeles County Supervisors are calling for steps to better coordinate and expand the work of several voluntary home visitation programs that help parents raise healthier children.

Arguing that the various programs and their funding are disjointed, Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Janice Hahn proposed a motion for Tuesday's board of supervisors meeting that would order the County Department of Public Health to develop a plan "to coordinate, enhance, expand and advocate for high quality home visiting programs." 

"Families benefit when they have help early on," said Kuehl, who also chairs the First 5 LA Commission. She told KPCC that she wants to grow the county's programs so that "more and more and more and more and more families with newborns can have this kind of help."

The motion would instruct Public Health, in partnership with an array of other county agencies and First 5 L.A., to create a coordinated system that would make it easier to refer families to appropriate programs. It would also ask them to study best practices and develop an outreach plan that would target pregnant women, especially those in high-risk communities.

The motion gives Public Health six months to come up with a plan.

The L.A. County Perinatal and Early Childhood Home Visitation Consortium lists seven different home visitation programs.

These programs typically send staff to visit expecting and new parents in their homes and share information and support services. The motion says these efforts have improved parenting skills, school readiness and the health of mothers and babies, and have reduced child abuse, low-weight births, child mortality and juvenile delinquency.

But despite visitation programs' effectiveness, only 3 percent of California families with young children benefit from them, according to the motion.

One way to ensure that more families access these services is to make it easier for the various programs to refer families to the programs that they're eligible for and best meet their needs, said Barbara Andrade Dubransky, who oversees First 5 LA's home visitation program. 

The programs should also coordinate with social services available through county departments and community organizations, she said.

Another way to improve the programs is to make sure they're utilizing limited local and federal dollars in a coordinated fashion, said Dubranksy, whose organization spends state tobacco tax funds on efforts to improve life for children through age 5.

"We already know it's not enough," she said, "but making sure we are efficient will help us to know really how much more we need and make sure that when we bring other dollars in, which is our intent, that we're ready to use them as effectively as possible."

A variety of resources for new parents can be found on the L.A. County Perinatal and Early Childhood Home Visitation Consortium website.