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Home Visits Help Vulnerable Marylanders Open Doors of Opportunity

February 2, 2012

BALTIMORE, Md. - Change the first five years of a child's life and you change everything, say experts at the Maryland Family Network. It staffs the Home Visiting Consortium funded by a grant from the Maryland State Department of Education.

A growing body of research suggests that early experiences have substantial influence on a child's future cognitive, behavioral, educational and economic outcomes, with the fastest rate of brain development happening in the first five years. One way disadvantaged Maryland families are learning how to make the most of those early years is through home visits.

Clinton Macsherry, director of public policy with Maryland Family Network, says parents sign up for the voluntary sessions.

"Home visiting programs team parents with trained professionals - they could be nurses, they could be social workers. In concert with those professionals, parents learn how to care for their babies and themselves."

Home visiting will be a topic in the General Assembly when the budget is debated and the Home Visiting Accountability Act of 2012 is on the table. Macsherry says that legislation would improve home visiting by linking state funding to programs with proven track records, which also might help the state win competitive federal grants. Money is also available in conjunction with federal health care reform.

During home visits, parents learn about developmental milestones, the importance of reading to children and how to track their child's progress, Macsherry says.

"We're talking about communities riddled with problems like substance abuse or poverty. In a lot of cases, we're dealing with some of the most vulnerable families in those communities. We really need to reach them where they live, quite literally."

Details about home visiting and the legislation are available at http://bit.ly/yPtWhw.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MD