By: Cinthia Diaz, Program Assistant, First 5 Center for Children's Policy
Note: This is the first in a series of blogs from the Center about how home visiting has adapted during COVID-19.
As a recent EdSource article described, California’s stay-at-home order is making vital family support services harder to provide to vulnerable families – but the nurses, social workers and other professionals who provide parenting support have found ways to pivot their work to meet this moment.
With no definitive end date to the stay-at-home orders in California, the needs of families who rely on family strengthening programs, such as home visiting, are only increasing. Home visiting entails trained professionals providing structured visits to families, during which they offer screenings, parenting advice, and referrals to additional services. All visits are voluntary.
Parents are experiencing high levels of stress due to economic uncertainty and concern about their own and their families’ health and wellbeing, all while attempting to tend to their children’s needs. Research shows that child abuse, intimate partner violence, and substance abuse increase during times of crisis, and, over the last few weeks, the country has seen a rise in this type of violence. ChildHelp, one of the oldest and longest national treatment nonprofits for child abuse, prevention, and treatment, has reported seeing an increase of 31% in calls and texts since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
With the governor’s order on March 19 to shelter in place, home visiting programs, which operate in most California counties, had to discontinue their in-person services. But many have found ways to continue offering support to families remotely. One of these programs is the evidence-based model Nurse Family Partnership, which operates in 20 counties statewide. Nurse Family Partnership was able to transition to telehealth and now conducts 100% of its visits via phone, texts, emails, or video calls. This switch has allowed them to increase the rate of completed visits and allows them to enroll new families.
To support home visitors as they pivot to this new environment, the Institute for the Advancement of Family Support Professionals, along with many other partners, has launched the Rapid Response-Virtual Home Visiting collaborative (RR-VHV). This collaborative is offering weekly webinars to home visitors, with topics ranging from how to screen in a virtual environment to how to keep families engaged during virtual visits. Its aim is to provide best practice principles and strategies to home visiting professionals so that they can maintain meaningful connections with families.
This connection is something that families are looking for right now. As Gina Daleiden, Executive Director of First 5 Yolo County, told EdSource, “It’s an anxious time for everybody and particularly for new mothers, or new mothers to be … they really do want connection, so they’re saying yes to that first phone call and then to the idea of working in a virtual way.”