Being a parent is a 24/7 job, so on most days, pretty much everything else is a scheduling conflict. Instead of managing a work-life balance, parents face a steady pile-on of financial pressure and family stresses around the clock.
The White House budget plan tries to fill some of the gaps in parents’ lives, however, by expanding subsidized childcare and early learning programs. The budget proposal would “expand access to high-quality care for more than 1.1 million additional children under age four by 2025,” build the childcare workforce, provide childcare tax credits for higher-income families, extend Head Start school-readiness programs, and promote universal preschool. But while advocates welcome this proposed funding infusion, a conceptual bottleneck remains: the federal spigot tends to switch off once parents pick up their kids from daycare—even though their worries follow them home.
That’s why it’s good news that one of Obama’s proposed initiatives reflects how parents’ needs are evolving, by putting forward a program that doesn’t just care for kids while parents are at work. It instead reaches them in their homes—which is often actually when they most need help.
Along with traditional childcare centers and preschool classes, Obama wants to expand home visiting services—an initiative already operating in many communities, which combines social work, personalized healthcare, and education for child and adult alike.
Home visitors are typically local social work or health professionals, such as nurses, trained to reach out to households in “high risk” communities suffering from poverty and instability. Through periodic visits, parents are provided with one-on-one guidance on child development and fostering healthy parent-child relationships. Although the programs are voluntary, these consultations are also designed to monitor children’s development and provide acute support if families hit a crisis that requires more intense social services, like mental health treatment.
Home-based services target the many poor parents who are not working or struggling to find a job, and therefore not participating in regular childcare programs. “There’s a lot more to going to work than just getting a job,” says Patricia Cole, Director of Government Relations of the advocacy group Zero to Three. “And for a family that has multiple risks, multiple stresses, having a little extra help to help you figure out how to organize your own life, how to access mental health services or whatever you need, you’re more likely to go to work.”