In a report presented at an interim committee Wednesday, Legislative Finance Committee staff recommended that the legislature consider allocating funds to study standards-based home visiting program outcomes for new parents.
Providers of the home visiting program can choose which home visiting model they operate. State statute requires that home visiting programs be at least standards-based, which means the program must be grounded in empirically best practices and the program must rely on a curriculum linked to positive outcomes for children and families.
But, the LFC report states that standards-based programs do not adhere to the same requirements as more rigorously evaluated evidence-based models. The programs do not specify the number of visits a month the parents receive, the expected length of the parent enrollment or workforce requirements.
Sarah Dinces, LFC program evaluator, told the Interim Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday that it would be useful for the legislature to consider funds to determine expected outcomes for standards-based programs.
“We don’t know what outcomes we get for those programs. It would be useful for the legislature to designate some funds to do that…we don’t need programs that don’t work,” she said.
The primary problem for the home-based visitation program is that new parents are underutilizing it, Dinces said. Early Childhood Education and Care Department Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky said some of the underutilization could have been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislature allocated additional funds for Fiscal Year 2024 to help ECECD with marketing the program.
Dinces said the department needs a stronger referral system so that providers let all of their patients know about the program, which would also help reduce stigma.
State Rep. Pamelya Herndon, D-Albuquerque, asked if the individuals who make the home visits take implicit bias tests before they enter the homes as a way to help reduce stigma.
“I don’t believe so,” Dinces said. “But some home visitors are very aware of biases and aware of the families’ culture but it depends on the program.”
New Mexico ranks third in the nation for social vulnerability with certain counties; Luna, Cibola, Doña Ana and McKinley, having the highest social vulnerability in the state. New Mexico also has worse maternal and child health and well being outcomes than national averages.
Some home visiting models reduce incidences of child maltreatment, reported substance abuse, improve mental and physical health and increase educational outcomes. For women who are involved in abusive intimate partnerships, home visits can reduce violence and repeat births for teen parents, according to the report.
But, few families in New Mexico complete the home visiting program and, while legislative funding for home visiting has increased, enrollment into the program has lagged behind and “most remain unserved,” Dinces said. She said over 100,000 New Mexico children under the age of 5 who could benefit from the program but their families are not enrolled.