The success of our workforce begins before birth. This may seem unexpected to some, but research tells us that a nurturing, healthy foundation beginning at pregnancy and early infancy can help set the stage for future academic and career achievement, leading to a stronger American workforce.
That’s why it is so important to invest in the earliest years of our children’s lives, not just for their benefit, but for the sake of America’s long-term economy.
Early intervention is key. Also crucial are voluntary home-visiting programs, which are evidence-based interventions that help support parents and their children by identifying families with high-priority needs and pairing these vulnerable families with trained professionals such as nurses, social workers, or parent coaches.
The home-visiting providers then assess the individual needs of each family and provide parenting support and education to help create a solid foundation for the child and their parents.
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In my experience as a business leader, the shortage of capable, reliable workers is a major impediment to productivity. We know that success in school is often a predictor of future career outcomes. We need employees with the hard and soft skills to do the job and to do the job well. Supporting children from birth helps further this goal in the long run.
A soon-to-be-released report from Council for a Strong America, a bipartisan nonprofit organization that brings together business, law enforcement, and military leaders, explains that quality home-visiting programs help increase test scores, prepare for kindergarten, and reduce behavioral problems. As the children enrolled in these programs get older, they are more likely to be prepared to join the workforce after high school. The same report notes that these programs also help reduce poverty and increase economic stability for enrolled parents.
Many of these programs are supported by the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting federal funding stream. Congress established the funding stream in 2010 and since then it has helped provide thousands of families with high-quality, voluntary home visiting services. However, while the program is critical, it has not seen an increase in regular annual funding since 2015.
In Missouri alone, 61,362 of high-priority families could benefit from the services provided by the home-visiting funding stream. Of that number, only 542 families were served by programs it funded. That is less than 1%. We need to expand the program to reach more vulnerable families.
Our next generation deserves every opportunity to be successful. Imagine what our state, and our nation, could achieve if every family who could benefit from home visitation had access to these services.
To make matters worse, without congressional intervention, the child-care funding stream is set to expire at the end of September, leaving families across the nation without this vital resource and potentially reversing the gains we’ve seen because of it.
If our federal lawmakers do not renew and increase support for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting funding stream, our children, parents and, ultimately, our economy, will suffer for it. I implore our representatives to consider the long-term benefits of home visiting programs and continue to prioritize our children by reinvesting in this key resource. The business community relies upon it.
Maxine Clark is the founder and former chief executive of Build-a-Bear Workshop. She resides in St. Louis.