Letter to the Editor: The importance of home visiting programs

In my experience volunteering in elementary school classrooms, I have seen different needs presented by kids coming from different backgrounds. Children who have a strong start have a better chance at lifelong success. We know this because science has shown that the first five years of life are when the child’s brain develops the fastest. Parents can shape this development through simple back-and-forth interactions like talking and playing together – which is exactly what voluntary home visiting programs help parents incorporate into their daily routines.

Home visiting programs are so critical. They provide vital, in-home support to parents to help them learn positive parenting techniques and set their children on track to have successful lives.

Our lawmakers are currently considering a bill that, among many other vital services, includes increased access to home visiting programs for families who need them. I urge our lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 590 and give our youngest citizens an opportunity to thrive.

MEGHAN DOANE
New London

Click here for the letter in the Concord Monitor.

Medicaid Expansion and Children

SB 313, which reauthorizes Medicaid Expansion, is currently up for debate in the NH House of Representatives. Medicaid Expansion benefits all of New Hampshire’s residents, especially our youngest Granite Staters.

  • Access to insurance makes a positive difference in the lives of children. More than 52,000 Granite Staters have the health care they need and deserve through Medicaid Expansion.
  • Children and families throughout our state need access to opportunities for early and life-long health. Many children in NH are covered through traditional Children’s Medicaid or CHIP. Low-income adults are covered through Medicaid expansion.
  • Children with health insurance are more likely to get the health care needed to identify and address developmental and health issues sooner rather than later. This saves the state money in increased costs in the long run.
  • Access to Medicaid through expansion is an important vehicle to reach uninsured children who may be eligible for Medicaid or CHIP. The evidence is strong that investing in Medicaid coverage for parents leads to coverage increases and improved health outcomes for children.
  • One of the most effective strategies to reach eligible but uninsured children is to ensure coverage through Medicaid Expansion to parents and other low-income adults. Parents are more likely to sign up their children for health coverage when the whole family can get coverage.
  • Health coverage provides financial security for the whole family. Financial security in childhood leads to increased positive health outcomes later in life.
  • Families with health insurance coverage are more likely to have a primary health care provider and in turn, are less likely to use more costly emergency room services for routine care. Since 2014, when New Hampshire enacted Medicaid Expansion, NH hospitals reported a 28% statewide reduction of those seeking care in emergency rooms without insurance.
  • With NH’s opiate epidemic, many children who have parents with a substance use disorder are experiencing Adverse Childhood Experiences, which lead to negative outcomes later in life.
  • Medicaid Expansion has allowed NH to double our substance use treatment capacity and it NH’s number one tool in the fight against the opiate epidemic. By helping parents get treatment and get healthy, Medicaid Expansion leads to less adverse childhood experiences in children.

Child Advocate Calls for Voluntary Services

As published by NHPR on March 5, 2018, more funding for at-risk families could have helped avert tragedy in Derry. SB 590 would include voluntary services to support these families.

New Hampshire’s newly appointed Child Advocate says an apparent murder-suicide involving a father and his 6-year-old son in Derry signals the need to fund supports for at-risk families, especially after a review of state records revealed that the father himself made multiple calls to child protective workers for help.

Moira O’Neill, who recently took over as the Director of the Office of the Child Advocate, says child protective workers received at least eight calls about the Edmunds family between February 2015 and June 2017. Several of those calls, she said, came from Matthew Edmunds, who was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning alongside his son, Preston, inside their home last month. There were no open cases about the family at the time of Preston and Matthew’s death, she said.

Edmunds reported feeling overwhelmed by family conflicts, O’Neill said, and was having trouble managing Preston’s behavior problems, which had at times jeopardized his spot in childcare. The family also lost a son who was the same age as Preston in 2009, after the boy reportedly fell through a patch of ice on an in-ground swimming pool.

But in all of those calls for help, O’Neill said there never appeared to be any sign of abuse or neglect, so each of the cases was dropped after an initial investigation or screened out without any investigation at all. In fact, O’Neill said Edmunds was praised for recognizing that he needed more support and taking steps to seek it out.

“The dad was always described as a really protective dad. He was well-bonded with his son. He had a good relationship,” O’Neill said. “[Caseworkers] had extensive conversations with him, whether from emails or phone messages, and he was often saying that he needed help. He said that he felt overwhelmed. He said that he had a lot of problems with family conflicts and he was having trouble dealing with it.”

But there was little the state could do to assist him in the absence of any apparent risk to his son’s safety, she said.

“This was, in my mind, a picture of a dad who was spiraling,” O’Neill said. “By asking for help he was interpreted as having strong parenting skills. Because that’s what you do. You ask for help. The problem was, he never got it.”

O’Neill says she hopes this case serves as a wake up call to legislators about the importance of restoring funding to these services, after lawmakers opted to cut that money from the state budget in recent years. A lack of those support services was highlighted as a serious deficiency in the state’s child protection safety net as part of an outside review conducted last year, in the wake of several deaths of children who were at one time under the state’s care.

Several bills to restore such funding are on deck this session. O’Neill says she plans to testify about the importance of these efforts and to encourage others to do the same.

“It’s a terrible tragedy and I respect the loss of the family’s experience with this,” O’Neill said. “We owe it to Preston to really look at this and say what can we do to make this better, what can we do to avoid another death or to avoid more despair in families.”

Following O’Neill’s report on the situation, Gov. Chris Sununu echoed her calls for more services to help avert future tragedies, issuing the following statement:

“The preliminary findings released today by the Office of the Child Advocate detail a tragic and potentially avoidable situation Throughout the past year, I have visited those on the frontlines at the Division of Child Youth and Family who stressed the importance of voluntary and prevention services being made available. I heard their concerns and made the restoration of these services a key priority of mine this legislative session. Those proposals are making their way through the legislature, and I look forward to them reaching my desk.”

Letter to the Editor: Vote yes on SB 590

To the Editor: I was raised by a preschool teacher who works tirelessly to ensure all children get a strong start in life. High quality early care and learning puts children on a path to success and prevents unfavorable outcomes later in life. Teachers like my mother can’t help but notice how a child’s family’s resources impact their potential to keep up with their peers, and opportunity gaps create difficulties for students and teachers alike.

In New Hampshire, nearly a third of young children could be considered at-risk of compromised development; this is due to low birth weight, low family resources or other stressors that can interfere with healthy physical, social, emotional and cognitive development.

Home visiting has proven to have long-lasting positive impacts on kids, from improved literacy skills to decreased drug abuse in the future. As our state copes with a devastating opioid epidemic, it is clearly in our best interest to invest in drug abuse prevention programs like home visiting.

On Feb. 8, the Senate Health and Human Services committee heard SB 590, a bill that would eliminate barriers that prevent parents on Medicaid from accessing New Hampshire’s home visiting services. Save the Children Action Network was among the many child advocacy groups who testified in support of the bill, because the elimination of restrictions on parents seeking support could benefit hundreds of families and communities across the state.

I urge the Senate Health and Human Services committee to vote yes on SB 590.

PAYTON GULLIKSON
Saint Anselm Drive, Manchester

Click here for the letter in the Union Leader.

Call to Action: Support SB 592

CALL TO ACTION

To best support our next generation, New Hampshire must use family support and strengthening services, which include family resource centers, home visiting, comprehensive family support services, and other family supports. SB 592 will support Granite State families with home visiting and family support services. These important support services were originally included in SB 590, and the two bills were amended so that they are now included in SB 592. The House Finance Committee unanimously recommended that this bill pass. Now, the full House will vote and we must ensure that representatives hear from constituents like you asking them to support SB 592.

Click here to find their contact information.

SAMPLE SCRIPT

Hello, is Representative ______________ available?

Hi Representative. My name is _______________ and I live in _______________. I’m calling to ask you to vote yes on SB 592 in your committee.

  • SB 592 includes referrals for voluntary services for families in need and community-based services to promote child protection.
  • Child development is a foundation for our state’s economic development. For New Hampshire to have a prosperous futures, we have to give all children the opportunity to develop socially, intellectually, and emotionally. Giving families access to these services will help to do that.
  • New Hampshire is struggling with a child protection crisis. Families need supports to prevent problems like these from happening.
  • Family support programs have been shown to improve parenting skills, reduce child injuries, lower substance use and domestic violence, improve school readiness of the child, and improve parents’ economic stability.
  • In NH, 45% of children have experienced one or more Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE); 12% have had three or more (vs. 11% nationally). Research has shown that children who experience multiple adverse situations in early life are at a substantially greater risk for physical and mental health issues such as future substance misuse. Family support programs help to mitigate ACEs.
  • Research continues to show that investment and intervention in early childhood can not only mitigate the costs to the state, but can also dramatically alter a child’s life in a positive way.

Do I have your support on SB 592?

Thank you for your time. Please feel free to call me back at ___________ if you have any questions.

Increased Child Care Funding

Thanks to incredible advocacy, a 25% increase in child care funding was included in the 2018-2019 New Hampshire state budget.

The additional $15 million for child care scholarships was included in the state budget to meet new federal program requirements.  The increase in funding ensures continued access for  New Hampshire’s children and families to quality, affordable child care. Investing in early development opportunities like quality child care is a vital and proactive way to support children and families, reduce state costs, and prevent future substance misuse.