By Nancy Franz
In Iowa, we pride ourselves on the rich productivity of our farms, families and communities.
Our mission at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is critically important to supporting two of Iowa’s most precious resources, our children and families.
Since 1999, ISU Extension and Outreach to Families has been involved in a multicounty program we call “Growing Strong Families.”
We share resources with expectant mothers and their family members. One of our most successful tools has been voluntary home visiting, where program assistants work with at-risk families. We work to help improve prenatal health, the health of the mother, and parenting skills for first-time parents.
In some cases, expectant parents grew up with family challenges such as poverty, low education, divorce, substance abuse or disability. In some families there is a history of abuse. Parents are asking for education and support to help them raise their children to be healthy and have a positive future.
Our voluntary approach with families is getting results. We are seeing a lower level of divorce, decreased poverty rates among the parents, increased job stability, and, most important, healthier children who are better able to start school and ultimately join Iowa’s workforce.
This spring, Iowa’s elected state officials passed important legislation to strengthen Iowa’s voluntary home visiting services. The law requires that, by 2016, the state must invest at least 90 percent of its home visiting funds in programs with a record of achieving one or more meaningful family outcomes. We’re one of the first states to put into law such a strong commitment.
The law also strikes a balance between Iowa’s tradition of local control and the interest of all Iowans in making sure that tax dollars support cost-effective services. Local leaders will continue to choose the home visiting models used in their communities, based on the needs of local families.
The reforms put Iowa on the leading edge of a national trend toward a more data-driven policy of budgeting. In fact, the policies approved this session will give Iowa one of the best systems in the nation for investing home visiting dollars effectively. That’s also a benefit to Iowa’s taxpayers.
The most important thing, though, is what this law means for Iowa’s children and families. No matter where they live in our state, they’ll get help from home visiting programs that are proven to work, focused on clear goals and accountable for delivering results.
Nancy Franz is the Associate Dean for Extension and Outreach in the Iowa State University College of Human Sciences. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org