At risk Iowans could lose access to home visit programs

Published: Dec. 20, 2017 at 4:49 PM CST
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The Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Act expired on September 30. Congress did not act, which means it lost all federal funding. Counties throughout the state of Iowa have programs supported by this act, and could have to do without it.

Brooke Karns is a participant in Black Hawk County’s HOPES. It offers home visits for mothers who are referred or could use some extra help. Karns and her husband joined the program after she became pregnant shortly after their daughter’s adoption.

“We were referred to the program because I just really needed some support in my life,” Karns said. “They would come in and give me information on what’s going on and my kids developmentally like what they should be doing.”

The county’s program started in 1996 through Lutheran Services. Five years ago, a federal grant allowed the program to double its staff and people it serves.

“We know that the earlier we enroll them in the program, the more benefit we’re going to see. But once they’re enrolled in the program those children can stay with us until they’re five years old and ready to start kindergarten. So, we can be a long term support, and we know that there’s great outcomes for that,” Program Supervisor Elizabeth Kehret said.

But without funding the program could have to cut staff which in turn would mean less families served and less time in the program.

“We know that we need to be with a family for a while before we see results. It’s not something that happens overnight, change is never quick,” Kehret said.

Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson is an advocate for the program. He spent time last fall pushing for funding.

“If you ask any law enforcement officer what’s the number one problem that you’re combating, they’re not going to say it’s drugs, they’re not going to say it’s violence, they’re not going to say it’s guns, they’re going to say it’s generational environment that predicates criminal behavior,” Thompson said.

He said the program addresses the long term.

“Long term criminal involvement, long term poverty, generational poverty, all those kinds of things this program helps address,” Thompson said. “it’s so frustrating to be a law enforcement officer who responds to something that’s developed over 15 years, and in 15 minutes we’ve got to try and fix it because the next call is coming.”

Thompson and the HOPES program want to see Congress reauthorize the program before the start of the New Year. Thompson said both of Iowa’s senators expressed their support.