Helping Families Succeed
Research shows that the months shortly after birth are the most crucial in determining lifelong outcomes of a child and that those children without adequate resources are more likely to make poor decisions and continue in the cycle of poverty. Because of a deficit in resources and support, many low-income children struggle more than others in their age group, and this is a cycle that we in Arkansas are trying to break.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2016, Arkansas had the highest rate of teen births in the United States: 34.6 percent compared to the country’s 20.3 percent average. While teen pregnancy is on downward trend nationwide, dropping nine percent between 2015 and 2016, the teen pregnancy rate in the United States remains markedly higher than in other western industrialized nations. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, two-thirds of young unmarried mothers are classified as poor, and 25 percent will have to take advantage of social safety nets within the first three years of their child’s birth.
This is why home visiting programs are important: they provide at-risk expecting mothers and families with the resources and skills to raise their children. There are several right here in our state that do excellent work for our Arkansas families.
Home visiting is a voluntary service that, according to the Arkansas Department of Health, provides expectant parents and parents with young children the education and support to ensure that they and their children can succeed. The Arkansas Home Visiting Network (AHVN) supports several home visiting models that work in the home to address maternal and child health, literacy and school readiness, social and cognitive development, positive parenting practices, and family self-sufficiency. These include Following Baby Back Home, Healthy Families America, Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY), Nurse Family Partnership, and Parents as Teachers, among others. In Conway, AHVN has partnered with Choosing to Excel, a nonprofit committed to imparting sustainable life skills to young Arkansans, to provide the services of Healthy Families America to the people of Faulkner County.
We must establish best practices to reduce teen birth rates. In March, my entire staff and I sat down with members of Choosing to Excel’s Youth Leadership Team to discuss healthy decision-making and the “success sequence.” Studies conducted by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution suggest that individuals who first graduate from high school (at a minimum), then get a full-time job, and then get married before having children, are over seventy percent more likely to flourish than their peers who did not follow this sequence.
Our children are the greatest blessings of this country, and they deserve our dedication to ensuring they have the knowledge and tools to thrive. I am encouraged by these passionate and dedicated young people and by their vital work on behalf of our home visitors.