On the Home Front: A report on Home Visiting in Westchester

Download here: On the Home Front

The following post was written Dr. Katherine Lobach, a member of the Westchester Home Visiting Work Group and a former WCA Board Member.  Katie now serves on WCA’s Advisory Council and is a Professor Emerita of Pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Although it seems like yesterday, it’s been over seven years since WCA first gathered a cluster of people from many of Westchester‘s service agencies to share hopes, ideas, and plans for promoting and expanding home visiting programs for families with infants and young children. As a member of that group, I strongly agreed with the belief we all held: home visiting may be about the best way there is to support young families and help them achieve the kind of future that will be good for them and, ultimately, good for all of us. Of course, “home visiting” can mean different things to different people, but our group was focusing on the so-called “evidence-based” programs whose results have been studied and proven over time. These almost always involved long term relationships with a family by trained visitors who had specific areas they focused on.

As the years went by we became the “Westchester Home Visiting Work Group” (WHVW); we formalized our relationship, learned from each other, and collaborated on new ventures. One of the things we soon agreed on was the need to gather and record the nature and scope of home visiting programs throughout the county, for without such data, you surely can’t do much in the way of planning and advocacy.  WCA became the record keeper, noting over time how some programs changed and how others came and went. Until recently, the collection process had been mostly informal and any results of our inquiries were not widely shared. Now that has changed!

In 2016, WCA conducted a detailed online survey of home visiting programs and now is presenting and analyzing information from 15 of them in a new publication, “On the Home Front: A report on home visiting in Westchester County in support of the critical 0 to 5 years”. At last, we have an in depth look at what is happening in our county in the way of important services for our most vulnerable families. If you are someone who is concerned about the kind of start we are giving the very youngest members of our community, there is much to consider here.   Especially noteworthy are the wide variation in size of the programs (i.e. the number of families they are able to serve annually), the equally wide program variation in the number of home visits per family, and the multiple (and unstable) sources of funding the programs depend on (The single largest funder is the New York State government). There are wait lists for most of the larger evidence-based programs, the ones that offer multiple visits per family and usually show successful outcomes. Current capacity for these programs totals about 400 children.

Think of that number in terms of the report’s infographic from the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy on need (shown as Appendix D) where we see that almost 8000 Westchester children living in poverty might benefit from such programs.  A list of the education topics many of them offer, and the range of “client services” most of them provide tell us how rich and valuable a family’s experience could be if they had access to these benefits.

So what should come next? Expanded programs, targeted populations, better coordination, continuing advocacy– the report offers a series of recommendations well worth your review and support.  Especially gratifying is the sense conveyed in these statements that WCA will bring its considerable expertise and commitment to moving them forward.  We should all be paying attention as we congratulate our valuable and unique Westchester Children’s Association for its role in bringing an important children’s issue into public view.