ELKHART — Since starting out investigating juvenile crime 30 years ago, Elkhart Police Chief Ed Windbigler has seen firsthand what the cycle of abuse can do to families.
He's witnessed countless examples of people who were abused as a child going on to abuse their own kids. One homicide sticks out in his mind, a case where a man threw his stepson down the stairs because the toddler couldn't say a word correctly.
"We had dealt with him a number of times," Windbigler said. "The next time we dealt with him, we had a dead 2-year-old."
He believes a federally supported home visitation program launched in 2010 could prevent situations like that, and he's encouraged by a study showing its success in crime prevention.
The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program was originally authorized as part of the Affordable Care Act and reauthorized separately in 2015. It provides funding for voluntary home visit programs for thousands of families in every state, including about 2,700 in Indiana through the programs Healthy Families Indiana and Nurse-Family Partnership.
MIECHV funds helped expand those programs in seven Indiana counties, including Elkhart, where the state had seen the greatest need. Those are also the counties that could suffer most if the program is allowed to end in September without congressional reauthorization, said Linnea Bennett with Council for a Strong America.
'THE WAY TO GO'
The visits generally involve a nurse or other trained professional who works with a young, at-risk mother to ensure her baby is hitting developmental milestones and that the mother is providing a stable environment through housing, obtaining a GED or finding stable employment, Bennett explained.
The national nonprofit released a report which says that voluntary home visits reduce child abuse and neglect by as much as 50 percent and reduce crime by over half among children whose mothers received home visits.
A two-decade study of the Nurse-Family Partnership demonstrated that, by age 15, children in the program had half as many incidents of abuse and neglect, the report states. By age 19, children in the program had half as many arrests and convictions as others looked at in the study.
Mothers not in the program had more than three times as many criminal convictions 15 years after the program compared to those who participated, and spent more time in jail, according to the report.
"When I had a look at the research, I've got to say, it seems like the way to go," Windbigler said. "Anything that'll reduce crime and get one kid down the right path and out of our system sounds like the right thing to me."
SET TO EXPIRE
The report also shows the return on investment seen in three of the most widespread federally funded home visiting programs, Healthy Families America, Parents as Teachers and the Nurse-Family Partnership. The programs save between $1.20 and $5.70 per dollar invested and $1,000 to $9,000 over a child's lifetime, primarily due to reductions in child abuse, neglect and crime and to improved workforce outcomes among two generations.
The programs also cut public spending on healthcare by reducing cases of low birth weight, emergency room visits and infant mortality, the report says, citing data from New York, New Mexico and Ohio.
Windbigler said he hopes to see the MIECHV reauthorized this fall so the home visitation programs it funds can continue.
The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee introduced a bill June 8 to reauthorize it through 2022 at its current level of funding, $400 million per year. New language in the bill would require state and local governments and private organizations to meet a dollar-for-dollar match of MIECHV funds, require improvemed measurements of how it affects employment, earnings and benefits, and allow some programs to be eligible for funding and implemented at additional sites.
U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, a committee member who co-sponsored the bill, praised the program after meeting with parents who benefited from it in St. Joseph County this spring and said she looks forward to seeing it reauthorized.