Would Expand Prenatal and Infant Support to Additional Families
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz and Senate Health Chairman Joseph Vitale to expand the state’s home visitation program that provides support to new mothers was approved today by the Senate. The bill is part of a package of Early Childhood bills sponsored by Senator Ruiz and designed to improve programs and services for children in the state, from prenatal to age five, and provide greater access to them for residents.
“Research on early child development shows the critical need for intervention and supports as early as during pregnancy and through infancy. By expanding the home visitation program, which provides support to new mothers, we will be able to impact more families,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “This will help establish a foundation that will benefit children for the rest of their lives.”
The brain develops most rapidly in the first few years of a child’s life and, during these critical years, the foundation is laid for a child’s physical and mental health, according to information from the World Health Organization.
The bill (S1475) will create a three-year Medicaid home visitation demonstration project to provide ongoing health and parenting information, parent and family support, and links to essential health and social services during pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood. The pilot program would be modeled on home visitation programs currently administered by the state, which provide services to over 5,000 families across New Jersey; if expanded, it would reach an additional 550 families.
“These kinds of programs are so important to ensuring that new parents have the educational tools they need to provide proper care and nutrition to their children,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “We know that both prenatal care and the care a child receives early on have a long-term effect on development, affecting health and cognitive outcomes. This is a program that will benefit children but also provide meaningful savings to the state.”
According to research by Dr. Ted Miller of the Pacific Institute of Evaluation and Research, there is a predicted $15,770 per family cost savings for federal, state, and local governments. These savings come from reductions in smoking, pregnancy-induced hypertension, fewer pre-term births, reduction in infant deaths, reduction in second teen births and increased time between births. The cost savings also includes reductions in child injuries and maltreatment, and reductions in language delays, crime and arrests, and drug and alcohol in later years.
The pilot program would be implemented in stages, prioritizing expansion of services in counties with the highest number of births to eligible families and where current home visitation programs provide services to less than 10 percent of the eligible population. The bill would require the Department of Human Services to apply for State plan amendments or waivers to implement this project and secure federal financial participation for State Medicaid expenditures. It would be subject to federal approval and availability of federal financial participation. South Carolina, New York, and Colorado all use Medicaid to help fund their home visitation programs.
The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 39-1. It next goes to the Assembly for consideration.