Home Visiting During COVID-19: A Stabilizing Force for America’s Families

·5 min read

Virtual visits reached numerous families as the nation struggled through a national crisis

ST. LOUIS, MO, May 17, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Parents as Teachers (PAT), the nation's foremost internationally recognized early childhood home visiting program, quickly pivoted and scaled up its home visiting capabilities. It did so by leveraging interactive video conferencing technology to deliver its traditionally on-ground visits.

From March 2020 to April 2021, PAT affiliates implementing the evidence-based home visiting model completed 545,064 virtual family visits nationwide. On May 17, 2021, PAT will be featured on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) network https://www.ninepbs.org/living-st-louis/ to highlight the experiences and knowledge gleaned from offering and providing virtual visits during the pandemic.

“Virtual visits have helped my family during the pandemic by giving my children something to look forward to and a familiar face to interact with," said Vanessa, a mother enrolled in PAT’s program. “They have given us an outlet to communicate with our parent educator and navigate the unknown during these trying times. Most importantly, they have given me some amazing tips and the resources I need to be the best mom to my children during this pandemic.”

In pivoting away from in-person visiting, Megan Maier, a St. Louis-based PAT home visitor working in the Ferguson/Florissant, Missouri communities, said, “We have had to figure out ways to support families, such as dropping off supplies on the front porch, to help get them through this time.

“Families have needed more time for the parents to just talk to another adult about anything going on,” Maier said, adding, “I have also had to reach out and find more resources from food banks for more families than ever before. We are lucky to have many different places offering free food to children and families.”

As part of PAT’s comprehensive package of services to improve early development, learning, and health outcomes for children, home visitors partner with parents to help them understand their child’s development. Home visitors continue to serve as a trusted resource for families. They help families with accessing health care, technology, educational support for young children, and mental health services. Additionally, home visitors connect the parents with family-serving organizations to secure safe housing, transportation to work, and necessities such as diapers and emergency food.

Many under-resourced families were already facing complex needs pre-pandemic and are now coping with much more acute challenges. Serving diverse communities reduces the disparate impact of poverty while increasing access to high-quality early education amid the rapidly evolving, but somewhat ebbing pandemic.

PAT’s culturally relevant programming is designed with diverse families in mind. In 2019, PAT reached nearly 88,000 families across 48 states, territories, and Tribal areas, completing more than 967,000 home visits. About 17 percent of families served by PAT were Black, 30 percent were Hispanic, and five percent were American Indian/Alaskan Native; 26 percent spoke a language other than English.

Constance Gully, PAT’s president, and chief executive officer, has noted that, with the increase in the number of families living in poverty, recovery for families in the post-COVID-19 world will demand even greater support through home visiting.

“As we transition back to in-person visits [as allowed under local policies], virtual visiting remains an ideal option for families experiencing the disparate impact of the pandemic, including those with challenging schedules or those with family members experiencing chronic medical conditions where in-person contact may not be advised,” Gully said.

“PAT will continue to provide diverse communities with culturally relevant, evidence-based support so that they can confidently parent their children, build work and life skills, and access the supports and services necessary to create connections in their communities and strengthen their families,” she noted.

Research shows that the significant, long-term benefits of home visiting, including early childhood education, reading, and math outcomes, decreased absenteeism for children at school, reduced child abuse and maltreatment, enhanced school achievement and employment; prevented crime, violence, and anti-social behavior; obesity, and promoted healthy physical development.

“There is clear validation of the benefits of our parent engagement efforts” said Allison Kemner, PAT’s vice president of research and quality. “Home visiting – whether it be in-person or virtual – remains the most cost-efficient and viable way to help underserved families transition out of the pandemic and undertake the challenges of recovery.”

Parents as Teachers also administers maternal depression screenings during the postpartum period and helps mothers find appropriate referrals to interventions when certain risk factors, including trauma or domestic violence, are present in a family. Early health and developmental screenings help parents identify possible concerns so families can be linked to appropriate services and therapies. These outcomes and services PAT provides will be a force that helps families recover after the pandemic.

Renowned Pediatrician Dr. Dipesh Navsaria clarified that there is ample evidence for the benefits of home visiting, and even more so for families impacted by significant stress. “While the pandemic affects us all — the effects of workplace disruption, loss of childcare and school, and isolation hit the least-resourced among us first,” he said. "Home visiting programs can benefit all — parenting is not an easy job for anyone, and we can all use help, even beyond a global crisis."

About Parents as Teachers

Parents as Teachers (PAT) builds healthy communities, thriving families, and children that are healthy, safe, and ready to learn. It matches parents and caregivers with trained professionals who make regular personal home visits during a child’s earliest years in life, from pregnancy through kindergarten. The internationally recognized evidence-based home visiting model is backed by 35 years of research-proven outcomes for children and families. PAT currently serves nearly 200,000 families in all 50 U.S. states, 115 Tribal organizations, six other countries, and one U.S. territory. Parents as Teachers National Center, Inc., is a non-profit organization headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri.

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CONTACT: Eric Parents as Teachers 3144324330 bart.holland@parentsasteachers.org

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