Thursday, Feb. 27th 2020

Early Head Start home visits reduce infant mortality

By Edward Condon, Executive Director, Region 9 Head Start Association

Here’s a sad fact about the United States, according to the Census Bureau. The overall infant mortality rate—6.2 deaths per 1,000 live births—is higher than countries like Cuba, Taiwan and Greece. In California, the statewide average is 4.4.

But a report from a pilot data project—led by the Los Angeles County Perinatal and Early Childhood Home Visitation Consortium—and collected from five Early Head Start agencies, found that when a mom received regular home visits by an EHS worker, the infant mortality rate declined. The infant mortality rate for 2017-18 for enrolled EHS families was 3.2—two cases of 629. That’s about half the national average.

The difference is notable, laudable and worth understanding: What are home visits and why are they effective?

Early Head Start programs provide comprehensive child development and family services. The programs have a two-generational approach to buffer the impacts of poverty on young children. Programs promote healthy parent-child attachment, school readiness, and child health and safety.

Each family is assigned a home visitor. The home visitor conducts weekly 90-minute home visits—for a total of 46 home visits per year. Here are two examples of what EHS attention meant in two cases:

A toddler in a Head Start Child Care Program was born with a malformation on both his feet—and was coming to day care only clad in socks because no shoes fit him—and the child’s doctor told his parents this was not a concern. Due to safety concerns of a child not wearing shoes in day care, the Head Start staff were able to meet with a specialist who made the child special shoes.

In one spectacular case, a Head Start staffer was there right at the beginning for a child—literally. A Head Start home educator began visiting a recently arrived family from New Jersey: a mom with a baby due in six weeks, plus a dad and two young children. The home educator helped the mom get an important first visit to a physician.

A week later, the home educator stopped by to drop off more baby supplies and discovered the mom having contractions every five minutes. The Head Start staffer found a neighbor to drive her and the expectant mom to the hospital—with the staffer having mom practice breathing techniques on the ride. They arrived at the hospital at 4:45 p.m.—and a healthy baby girl arrived at 5:23 p.m. So, with minutes to spare, Head Start was there.

So, for young parents whose lives are already compromised and made more stressful because of economic circumstances, Early Head Start home visits are a godsend. They offer not only assistance to keep the baby healthy—but also outreach to parents and the families. The visits save lives.

Across the state, there have been campaigns launched to address the high infant mortality rates. If the data cited above from the L.A. pilot data project holds true across more local EHS home visits, then the DNA of how it works is worth replicating elsewhere. But what is certainly obvious is that Head Start has a half century track record of success because it is community based and cost-effective. Therefore, enrolling more families is an answer to decreasing our infant mortality rates. 

Note: If your agency would like to participate in the next annual report, click here for a sign-up form.

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The Vision

All children, regardless of their circumstance at birth, deserve a full and prosperous life.

The Mission

  • Support high-impact Head Start programs for children and adults by creating opportunities for collaboration, networking and information sharing.
  • Unite with state and national Head Start organizations to ensure regulatory and budget outcomes that support our work.
  • Champion the message that every child and family who succeeds makes their community a better place.
  • Provide resources to assist our members in compliance and professional development.

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