Governor Gina Raimondo has signed legislation sponsored by President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed and Chairman of the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee Joseph M. McNamara to establish the Rhode Island Family Home Visiting Act.

The law (2016-S 20962016-H 7220) calls for the Rhode Island Department of Health to work with the Department of Human Services and the Department of Children, Youth, and Families to develop and coordinate the standards for a system of early childhood home visiting services that would meet the needs of the state’s most vulnerable families with young children.

The law calls for the Department of Health to operate a statewide home visiting system that employs evidence-based models proven to improve child and family outcomes. Vulnerable families will be referred prenatally or as soon after birth as possible to voluntary home visiting programs. Families will be prioritized based on risk factors such as adolescent parents, history of drug or alcohol abuse, history of violence or incarceration, or insufficient financial resources. The program will be completely voluntary for participants. In total, more than 1,700 Rhode Island families will gain supports through the program.

The new law establishes standards and accountability for high quality home visiting programs, including through annual reports on the program’s effectiveness.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has provided the Department of Health a competitive $10.2 million grant to sustain current family home visiting efforts and to expand evidence-based home visiting to serve an additional 500 families.

“The evidence is more and more abundant that the earliest experiences of a child’s life have a profound impact on the development of life skills,” said Representative McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston). “This legislation will establish a system to support improved language, cognitive, social, and emotional development in the state’s youngest children.”

“The first experiences of a child’s life set the foundation for development and learning that will lead to later success. The evidence is abundant that the quality of a child’s earliest experiences correlates to success throughout schooling and later in life,” said President Paiva Weed (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown). “There is an existing infrastructure in place for home visiting programs serving Rhode Island families with young children through state and federal investments. These programs are a cost-effective and proven means to support improved language, cognitive, social, and emotional development. We must maintain the highest standards to obtain the best outcomes.”

The legislation has the support of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT.

“In recent years, Rhode Island has built a strong, voluntary system of evidence-based home visiting programs serving vulnerable families, including Healthy Families America, Nurse-Family Partnership, Parents as Teachers, and Early Head Start,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. “These programs are proven to improve outcomes for children and families, including: improved child development and school readiness, increased positive parenting practices and reduced child maltreatment, improved maternal and child health, and improved family economic self-sufficiency. We thank the leadership of the General Assembly for passing this critical bill which is an important step forward to ensure that high quality home visiting programs are part of our early childhood system for the long term.”