Refreshing a Home Visiting Council in DC: Some Initial Lessons Learned

The DC Home Visiting (HV) Council recently held its first retreat, meant to refresh and restart the HV Council. Think of this retreat as a concentrated strategic planning day led by a national advocate for applying home visiting as a family support strategy, Jason Sabo of Frontera Strategies. Jason gave members of the HV Council perspective on how our work to support home visiting in DC compares to efforts nationally; he also helped nail down a revamped mission and vision for the HV Council.

The day was productive and abuzz with the energy of people at the table who genuinely care about integrating home visiting into a broader system of early childhood supports in DC. Some of my major take-aways from the day are:

  1. Getting started is a heavy lift Thoughtfully launching an advisory body tasked with supporting a major strategy for improving the lives of children and their families is not an easy task and should be pursued deliberatively and strategically. States and jurisdictions looking to build this kind of advisory council should be prepared to provide the resources and support needed to enable home visiting councils to do this work.
  2. Dedicating time to getting on the same page is fundamental Even groups that agree on the same broad goals may define the components of those goals differently. Blocking out time out time to talk out these major priorities (either broadly or within groups focused on specific work) to make sure that everyone is working toward the same product is essential. This gets many of the kinks out up front and can help minimize the need to take time out for conversations that sound like: “But, wait, what do we actually mean by…?”
  3. DC’s challenges are similar to those in other states The DC Home Visiting Council sorts its strategy for home visiting into six big buckets: advocacy, long-term funding sustainability, program support and professional development, continuous quality improvement and evaluation support, coordinated intake and Home Visiting Council sustainability. In some form or fashion, all of these are priorities for other states and jurisdictions across the nation, from Oregon to Florida to Texas and others. That these issues are concerns nationally is representative of their complexity: there is no quick fix.
  4. Coordinated intake is key (and it’s complex) In DC, where at least seven organizations are implementing at least four evidence-based home visiting models, each with different eligibility requirements and targeted outcomes, finding and enrolling in the right home visiting program can be a challenging ordeal for families. Coordinated intake (also referred to as centralized intake in other places) is a way to provide families with streamlined access to a system of services and supports that might otherwise be too complex or time-consuming to navigate. Other states and jurisdictions have taken a wide range of approaches to coordinated intake to meet the needs of their families. As the Home Visiting Council maps out its vision for a coordinated intake system for DC – a priority of the HV Council for the upcoming year – it will take care to ensure that this system reflects the District’s resources and its citizens’ needs.
  5. Funding is fickle In many places, including DC, funding for home visiting comes primarily from federal sources, especially the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV). As federal administrations change and priorities shift, this funding could experience cuts that could impact communities’ ability to continue providing quality home visiting services. Advocates for home visiting nationally are exploring additional sources of funding beyond MIECHV funding, including TANF, Medicaid, public health and early childhood funding. As the DC HV Council develops strategies for funding sustainability, it will consider these funding sources and explore the potential to better leverage local sources.
  6. Having the right people at the table makes the job easier Home visiting councils depend heavily on who sits at the table and who engages in moving strategies forward. In systems as complex as the early childhood systems that encompass home visiting, stakeholders include everyone from families to government officials in health, education and welfare, to home visiting programs, evaluators, child advocates and managed care organizations. And the list goes on. Getting all of these people at the table can be challenging and keeping them there can be even harder. DC is fortunate to have a motivated, voluntary Home Visiting Council that is active and engaged. This will no doubt be a boon as the HV Council moves forward with work that will call on that engagement.

Overall, I (and hopefully everyone else!) left the retreat motivated and energized to continue the work of the HV Council. Many thanks to Jason Sabo for taking the time to come to DC and skillfully lead the retreat. Also, a big thank you to the Bainum Family Foundation and the Alliance for Early Success for making the day possible. I’m looking forward to forging ahead on the foundation that the HV Council began building at the retreat.