A recently published evaluation of a New York state home visiting program has found that home visiting produces significant outcomes in reducing child abuse and neglect.

Healthy Families New York is a home visiting program targeting expectant parents and those with children under 3 months who are considered to be at high risk for child abuse or neglect. Home visitors in the Healthy Families New York program are para-professionals trained under the Great Kids Inc. model, and receive ongoing professional development, high quality supervision and support.

The evaluation used a sample of 1173 at-risk moms. Approximately half were assigned to a control group, while the other half participated in the home visiting program. Interviews were conducted with the mothers after years 1, 2, 3 and 7. Among the Year 1 findings:

  • Mothers receiving home visits were only about half as likely as control group mothers to deliver low birth weight babies
  • Compared with mothers in the control group, home visiting participants reported committing fewer acts of severe physical abuse, minor physical aggression, harsh parenting, and psychological aggression against their children

After 2 years:

  • The average number of reported acts of serious abuse in the past year was lower among mothers in the home visiting program than mothers not participating in the program
  • Among mothers who were “psychologically vulnerable” (mothers who had a low sense of mastery and high levels of depressive symptoms), mothers receiving home visits were less likely to report acts of serious abuse or neglect.
  • Among psychologically vulnerable mothers, the average number of self-reported incidents of serious abuse and neglect in Year 2 was significantly lower for the home visiting group.

After 7 years:

  • Mothers in the home visiting group reported using non-violent discipline strategies more frequently than mothers in the control group and reported higher rates of non-violent discipline.
  • Children in the home visiting group were less likely to report that their mothers engaged in minor physical aggression against them than children in the control group
  • Mothers in the home visiting group reported using serious physical abuse less frequently in the past year than mothers in the control group

The researchers concluded that “The current study presents timely evidence to suggest that involving families in home visiting services early on promotes positive experiences within the home during the initial years of life, for both the mother and the child.”

by David Sheftel
Program Coordinator, BC Council for Families