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A chunk of home visits for new mothers is at risk if federal funding is cut

A woman holds a measuring chart for babies and stands in a clinic.
Tennessee Watson
Johnna French, a maternal child health nurse with Albany County, weighs and measures babies during home visits.

When a nurse comes to a new mother’s home to help with nutrition and developmental milestones, it’s called a home visit. A federal program funds home visits for low-income families in the state. But as reporter Madelyn Beck found out for Wyofile, that program may lose its fundingbefore the end of the year. Beck said there’s a bill proposed to increase funding but it hasn’t advanced. She said groups have been concerned for a while now.

Madelyn Beck: So I had been hearing a couple months ago, a lot of groups starting to raise the alarm about funding for this very particular home visit grant program through the federal government. This particular grant program is called MIECHV, which is the acronym because everything in the federal government has to have a very long acronym. MIECHV stands for the Maternal Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. Once that ends, that is a primary funder for public programs for home visits across the United States, including for over 200 families in Wyoming.

Kamila Kudelska: And can you go into a little specifics of what these home visits are? What do they entail?

MB: For a lot of these, it's very family specific. But that's what's so great about these kinds of programs is people can go in and they help address the situation, make sure everyone is healthy, make sure everyone is happy, that mom gets what they need, the baby gets what baby needs. As far as nutrition, you can teach mom about what the baby needs, or what might be an emergency, what isn't an emergency. Just supporting the whole family in all the different ways that it needs to be, but also just kind of hand holding through these processes that new parents don't have much backing for. Especially a lot of families that might not have come from a strong family unit that could have supported them as children, so they'd never seen it in the first place.

KK: What type of demographic in Wyoming sees these home visits?

MB: So the primary demographic is low income. But some of the other priority communities are those that are pregnant women under the age of 21, families that have a history of child abuse or neglect, families with a history of substance misuse, or family members that need treatment for substance misuse.

KK: There is funding, potentially, it's going to be taken away from these home visits. So can you talk about what's at stake if that funding goes away?

MB: So that funding in Wyoming, one of its biggest areas that it goes to is under the Wyoming Department of Family Services. They use it to fund a home visiting program called, Parents As Teachers. So that fund MIECHV covers around an estimated 90 to 95 percent of that home visiting program. They, like I said, for their program year 2020 to 2021, they served 243 families. And what we've seen with a lot of the studies done on these home visiting programs is they can reduce challenges that those children or families would see down the road. It can prevent abuse and neglect. It can prevent unnecessary emergency room visits. It can do a lot of things. So if these kinds of programs go away in Wyoming, that will just mean that many more families are not going to get that kind of service and it puts their children or babies at a higher risk to potentially develop behavioral challenges, not get the kind of support that they need in a variety of areas. But even with those 240 some families, that’s still well below the number of people that could benefit from this and fit under those high need populations. These are the ones that got it, and those are the ones that are getting funding, there's a lot more that aren't at all. So this is just taking away the little bit of access that is in Wyoming for those groups. If you're in a rural area of Wyoming and you need childcare and you're worried because your kid might have a light fever and you don't know whether it's an emergency or not and you drive through a winter storm 100 miles to get to an ER and for them to be like, ‘Yeah, you don't need to be here, your child is fine.’ This is the kind of program that can prevent those sorts of things.

KK: How could this affect the overall maternal and prenatal health care and services in Wyoming?

MB: Obviously, if the funding through the proposed bill is passed… There's the proposed bill, it's called the Jackie Walorski Maternal and Child Home Visiting Reauthorization Act of 2022. Obviously, like, a very long title, because the federal government. But if that were to be reauthorized,that were to be passed, that would increase funding and double the amount set aside for tribal groups. So, that could be really big. It could help more families in Wyoming. But if this funding were to lapse, or if it were to go away completely, that would leave a huge hole for these kinds of services. Obviously Wyoming is already incredibly challenged in finding maternal health care, for finding prenatal health care, for those sorts of services are extremely limited, and there aren't enough of them in the state. And so a lot of people do have to travel a very long way for very particular types of services. So [the loss of] this sort of program is just another way that a state like Wyoming is going to face more challenges when it comes to those who are pregnant people with newborns and even up into having infants and toddlers. That block of healthcare is just another thing that will be lost, potentially.

Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.
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