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Friday, July 31, 2009

Do You Support the "Education Begins at Home Act"?

Lawmakers have essentially inserted the “Education Begins at Home Act” – which was introduced in 2008 and again this year by Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) and Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) – into the health care bill under the home visitation section. Section 440 of the House bill – Home Visitation Programs for Families with Young Children and Families Expecting Children – would provide grants to states to establish home visitation programs to educate parents on child behavior and parenting skills. The “well-trained and competent staff” will:

"…provide parents with knowledge of age-appropriate child development in cognitive, language, social, emotional, and motor domains…modeling, consulting, and coaching on parenting practices; [and] skills to interact with their child…"

Many question the role of federal government in such practices. Also, the vaguely-worded program specifics are troublesome. The home visitation provision dictates that the state will “prioritize serving communities that are in high need of such services, especially communities with a high proportion of low-income families or a high incidence of child maltreatment." Concern with the bill is that it will encourage government officials to enter homes and educate and interact in parenting methods that are approved by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Does such a bill violate the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution? What seems like a good idea to expand and improve programs that are already in place, this bill, if it were to become law, opens up the door of every family to government involvement. People don't necessarily believe the law is targeted at low income families or other families that are otherwise considered "at risk" by the government. They, instead, believe this is targeted to everyone including primary caregivers who maybe grandparents, other relatives, foster parents, and noncustodial parents. So, birth parents may not be the only participating parties.

There are privacy concerns because when home visitors come into the home they assess everything about the family: their financial situation, social situation, parenting practices, everything. All of that is put into a database. Questions arise about how agents of the government plan to acquire private medical and financial records to offer the home visiting program.

While the home visitation program is described as “voluntary,” it’s not clear whether it would remain voluntary throughout or just up to the time a parent trainer enters the home. There is no wording in the Education Begins at Home Act requiring parental permission for treatment or ongoing care once the family is enrolled.

Indeed, the states may have an economic incentive to increase enrollments in these home visits and may pressure families to participate in them. Some feel this especially likely because the bill requires states that receive these grants to submit an annual report to the Secretary of HHS which includes the number of families in the home visitation program and retention rate.

Such visitation programs would further increase the federal role in preschool education, and this represents another reason for parents to be concerned about what’s actually in the health care bill. So, many assume that someone coming into homes and telling them how to raise their children strips their personal liberties.

Do bureaucrats know more about parenting than most parents? The government may pressure parents to adopt child rearing methods that are against the family's religious beliefs. Home visitation officials may even threaten families with abuse and neglect investigation if the families do not choose to follow the official parenting education models. Does the good intention of the bill outweigh the possible harm inflicted upon the innocent?

The legislation does not specify whether parents are allowed to decline evaluations, drugs or treatment for their children once they are diagnosed with developmental or mental conditions. There seems to be evidence that state-diagnosed conditions would remain in a child’s permanent medical history. Mental health screening is very subjective no matter what age, especially with very young children.

Proponents of the bill say home visiting has shown to be a strong factor for overall school readiness and serves as key prevention of child abuse, criminal justice, along with improving children’s health, and with linking the child and family with other community based services.

The core components of the Education Begins At Home Act are:

· $400 million over three years to allow states to implement proven home visiting programs of their choosing.

· $50 million over three years to implement home visiting services focused on English Language Learners.

· $50 million over three years to implement home visiting services focused on military bases.

A broad coalition of organizations is working to move this legislation forward. Among them are organizations dealing with child abuse, child advocacy organizations and social workers. Organizations such as the United Way? Advocates for or against this proposed bill should speak out. Now is the time to voice opinion about the proposed program. As part of the costly health care proposal, the "Education Begins At Home" section is open for scrutiny. Weigh in on the issue. Make your voice part of the vocal minority and read more about the proposal for an informed opinion.

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