Collaborative advocacy to secure investments for the youngest Kansans

By Erick Vaughn, Executive Director of the Kansas Head Start Association

Voluntary, evidence-based home visiting services for at-risk pregnant women and parents with young children is a vital INVESTMENT in our country’s future, economy, families, and children. The Home Visiting Program, builds upon decades of scientific research, provides voluntary, culturally-appropriate, individually-tailored supports to families in their homes, including providing information about children’s health, development, and safety, and when appropriate, referrals to other support services.

Recently, President Obama signed into law a bill that provides for a two-year extension of that investment, called the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program (pronounced “McVee”).  The bill provides an extension for federal fiscal years 2016 and 2017 at the current funding level of $400 million per year.  In Kansas this translates into the means for the continuation and expansion of evidence-based home visiting programs that are currently a part of the Kansas MIECHV work in Cherokee, Labette, Montgomery, and Wyandotte Counties.

The Kansas MIECHV project will now be able to:

  • enroll and serve more at-risk families with evidence-based home visiting supports
  • improve child and maternal outcomes through enhanced interventions
  • enhance system and service coordination by addressing healthcare access, mental health, and domestic violence services
  • enhance statewide system infrastructure components including professional development for home visiting professionals

This is great news for Kansas during these times of diminishing resources for services to our most vulnerable.  However, this support would not be available if the bill had not first passed the House and Senate.

Many Kansans had a role in helping advocate nationally for this funding. Early childhood partners in Kansas had established relationships with their members of congress through ongoing communication and this served as a foundation for advocacy activities that ultimately lead to the passage of this bill.

In January, Head Start staff were able to visit our congressional delegation while in DC attending a conference.  As a result of follow-up from those visits, Congresswoman Jenkins visited a Head Start program that is a part of the Kansas MIECHV work, and even had the opportunity to go on a home visit. Meanwhile, early childhood partners were asking other Congressmen and Senators to support continued MIECHV funding, a vital investment in our children and families.

A group of parents visited the Kansas delegation a week before the Senate was to vote on MIECHV reauthorization.  KHSA takes a group of parents to DC every year to go on hill visits — a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many parents.  This year our trip occurred a week before the Senate voted and passed this important bill.  The parents shared their stories of the impact of Head Start and home visiting on their children and their families’ wellbeing. This visit was perfectly timed and had a cumulative impact with the other good work that had occurred. Kansas played a vital role in the passage of MIECHV reauthorization with five of six in the Kansas congressional delegation voting in favor.

Having a coordinated, strong and consistent message is important, however nothing is more important than the stories and voices of those impacted by home visiting. Are you a parent or grandparent who knows firsthand the importance of home visiting or other early childhood services for your family?  If yes, then share your story with your state and federal representatives. If you do not have a personal story, then get involved so you meet someone who does, and help them tell their story and involve neighbors and friends. Your voice is vital in getting and maintaining investments in early childhood.  Ultimately, telling our personal experience to decision-makers matters, especially in this environment of limited resources.

Categories: Early Childhood