Universal Home Visits for Washington

Universal Home Visits for Washington

Rep. Laurie Jinkins, Judge Kitty-Ann van Doorninck, and Councilmember Derek Young kicking off the Help Me Grow community planning process.

In 2017, Superior Court Judge Kitty-Ann van Doorninck approached Rep. Laurie Jinkins and me with concerns over rapidly increasing dependency and removal rates in Pierce County. While the neglect and abuse of children has many causes, we’ve seen a substantial increase in the number of cases involving substance use disorders and newborns. Twenty-six percent of all Pierce County dependency cases are filed before the child reaches a year old.

Help Me Grow system modelWorking with First 5 FUNdamentals, and the Attorney General’s Office, we determined that ensuring parents have the supports and resources they need before a crisis hits — and improving coordination among existing services — was a vital step in keeping families together, thriving, and strong.

Thanks to the $250,000 investment from the Legislature during the 2018 session, a community planning process launched last summer, beginning a 5-year Help Me Grow (HMG) pilot project to design a system that would be accessible to all parents. HMG is a national model designed to connect families to community resources to support healthy child development.

The goals are to:
  1.  Reduce dependency filings for children ages birth to 3 in target zip codes.
  2. Gain population information on services offered and needed.
  3. Improve child health outcomes by reducing low and very low birth weight babies.
Governor Inslee and staff meeting with Help Me Grow staff stakeholders.

To date, over 120 partners have been involved — including parents and those with previous child welfare experience. We now are asking the legislature for funds to start implementing HMG.

The Governor submitted request legislation to expand this idea statewide. The Pierce County project is included in his Universal Home Visiting proposal called the Welcome to Washington Baby Act (SB 5683) and (HB 1771). The bills were heard in their respective committees last week.

We are in support of the bill with the following clarifications:

  • While the bills already calls for a voluntary program, it may help to clarify further that it calls for universal access, rather than mandatory home visits.
  • We believe the intent is to operate the program through local partners rather than the new Department of Children, Youth, and Families, though further clarification would be helpful.
  • The intent behind the bill is to create new “light touch universal home visiting,” identify the family’s needs, and connect to existing resources, not to replace the more “intensive home visiting programs.” However, we do think the latter should expand in anticipation of increased demand generated by the former.
  • We believe that adequate time must be given for community planning, to ensure cultural responsiveness and address nurse staffing issues.

We are working with policy staff to suggest language changes listed above. We also support additional communities undergoing a similar planning process to what we have done, and are eager to share our findings.