Perspective from Texas: Investing in Home Visiting Programs, Not Prisons

October 30, 2013early childhood, home visiting

148664463modIn a recent New York Times Op-Ed, Nicholas Kristof challenged the American public to reconsider our policy strategies for addressing economic inequality and crime by investing in early education and parenting programs instead of the burgeoning prison industrial complex. Kristof highlights the long-term social benefits associated with early childhood programs.  He points out that states spend far more money on incarcerating individuals than they invest in preschool and home visiting programs that have been shown to reduce the future likelihood of juvenile crime and incarceration.

The contrast Kristof describes rings true in Texas, but the state is also making increasingly large investments in evidence-based home visiting as a strategy for improving child health and school readiness outcomes among the state’s highest need families.

In 2010, the average annual cost of housing an inmate in Texas prisons was $21,390. In contrast, in 2012 Texas spent only $3,232 per child on public pre-school, and the state is spending an average of $4,019 per child on evidence-based home visiting programs.

In 2007, Texas became a leader in the movement to support evidence-based home visiting programs by reinvesting $4.3 million in criminal justice cost savings to serve families in high-risk communities through the Nurse Family Partnership (NFP).  Texas continues to support the Nurse Family Partnership, and in 2013, the state adopted legislation that provides $7.9 million to serve at-risk pregnant women and families using evidence-based and promising practice home visiting programs.

Texas is also the recipient of federal funding through Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV), which supports the Texas Home Visiting Program (THV). THV currently provides grants to nine Texas communities to implement evidence-based home visiting programs and develop Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems that facilitate efficient delivery of health and social services to children and families.  The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) contracted CFRP to evaluate the implementation and outcomes of THV, and CFRP is conducting an ongoing study to better understand the factors that enhance and limit the delivery of evidence-based home visiting programs when they are implemented at the local level.

Anna Lipton Galbraith, Research Associate