July 24, 2023

Home visiting program struggles to grow participation as funding increases

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse Wikicommons.

Legislative allocations for the Early Childhood Education and Care Department’s home visiting program have increased, but family participation remains low, a new legislative report found.

The Legislative Finance Committee held an interim hearing last week to hear the findings on the ECECD’s home visiting program. Home visiting in the state is expected to generate a return on investment ranging from $1 to $14 on every public dollar spent. Home visiting has expanded with funding increases by 216 percent since Fiscal Year 2017.

But, the report found most eligible children remain unserved and families that do enroll in the program have a high dropout rate, with only 11 percent of families completing the two-year program.

ECECD Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky told the committee that she found the report “sobering.” But said that the COVID-19 pandemic had had some impact and that the department was created three years ago in 2020.

“We’re on a learning curve as a new department with a pilot of home visiting. Much of this covers the pandemic era. We’re dealing with those challenges. This is context setting, not an excuse,” Groginsky said.

Prior to the creation of the ECECD in 2020, the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department housed the home visiting program.

Groginsky said the agency sees the 53 percent increase in participation since FY2017 as a positive, even if the funding increase since then has far outpaced that rate. She said the department wants to learn more about the low completion rate.

She said the department needs to be looking more at the employee turnover rates. She said if a home visitor leaves the position after building a rapport with the family, the family is not likely to start over with another home visitor.

Groginsky said the job of home visitor can be “intense.”

“It’s intense work when visiting and seeing the challenges families face,” Groginsky said.

Groginsky said the department is working on a multi-prong approach to get the word out about home visiting. She said she wants schools to know to recommend the program to parents, and have the agency do more with marketing and social media. She said word of mouth is key. She also said the department has to work to remove the stigma so families feel comfortable signing up for the program.

Other findings include that the department could do more to utilize Medicaid dollars. The report recommended that ECECD and the Human Services Department, which oversees the Medicaid division, ensure Medicaid home-visiting rates are comparable to state-funded home visiting rates.

The report also recommended that the agencies should ensure that postpartum women are able to enroll. Currently, they cannot.

The report also recommended that the department prioritize expansion of home visiting in counties with higher social vulnerability.

The department said in its formal response to the findings that it has a goal of expanding the home visiting program by 2,000 new families in FY2024, and that it is working to target, in particular, Bernalillo, San Juan and McKinley counties because of their high populations and higher social vulnerability.