As a pediatrician and parent, I know
firsthand the tremendous impact that
parents have on child development. I
also know what a challenging job it can
be. I’ve seen how important it is for
parents to have good information and
support when they need it most, during
pregnancy and the first years of their
children’s lives. That’s why my
colleagues and I are urging the West
Virginia Legislature to support a
supplemental appropriation for in-home
Many parents of
infants I have treated over the past 22
years do not have the traditional
extended-family support they need to
help them face the challenges of
parenting. Many families live great
distances from grandparents, aunts and
uncles. Daily encouragement and support
during the stressful times of a
sleep-deprived parent or 2-year-old
temper tantrums is vital to the survival
of well-functioning family units.
Pediatricians address these issues in
15- to 30-minute office visits, but they
are not always able to guide the parents
in day-to-day routines that occur at
home. A team approach is needed.
education is a practical and economical
approach to healthy child development.
These community programs send trained
staff members to visit expectant and new
parents in their homes. They provide
information and support and link
families to other resources they might
need. Their services are entirely
voluntary, and trust is key to this
The home visitors
reinforce the messages about child
health and safety that pediatricians
give parents during their clinic visits.
They do this in the home environment,
where they can help parents work through
challenges that might arise. Time and
again, they are there to troubleshoot
the small problems before they turn into
Studies show that
in-home family education is a good
investment — in our children and in our
economy. Take low birth weight, for
example, a long-standing problem on our
state. The incidence of low birth
weights improved by almost 18 percent
among participants in one West Virginia
program, according to a recent study by
Vanderbilt University. An 18 percent
improvement in low birth weights
statewide would save $25 million per
year in hospital costs alone.
Another example is
child abuse and neglect, a serious
problem being addressed by state
policymakers. According to an extensive
study by the Centers for Disease
Control, up to 40 percent of all child
maltreatment could be prevented if
in-home family education programs were
widely available. This translates into
about 3,000 fewer children being harmed,
as well as almost $60 million saved each
year in direct health, social service,
law enforcement and court costs.
I co-direct the Child
Advocacy Center at Women and Children’s
Hospital at CAMC. This center serves the
victims of child sexual abuse in
Charleston and Southern West Virginia.
We treat at least 25 children a month
who have suffered abuse. Sadly, our
clinic is always full and in demand, and
this does not take into account the
number of ER visits for abuse.
Repeatedly, I see children whose parents
are overwhelmed and cannot provide basic
protection for their children.
Partners in Community
Outreach, a coalition of in-home family
education programs in West Virginia,
have requested $5.2 million from the
state to expand these highly beneficial
programs. And they’re not alone. In
addition to the West Virginia Chapter of
the American Academy of Pediatrics,
their proposal has been endorsed by the
state chapter of the National
Association of Social Workers, West
Virginia School-Based Health Assembly,
West Virginia Association for Young
Children, Prevent Child Abuse West
Virginia, and many others.
The proposal mirrors
similar efforts under way across the
nation. All states are at some stage of
developing In-Home Family Education, and
37 states have statewide systems. Last
year, the Education Begins at Home Act
was introduced in Congress, which would
provide the first federal funding stream
for in-home family education. Sen.
Rockefeller is a cosponsor, and the bill
has bipartisan support.
The health issues of
West Virginia children are complex.
In-home family education is an excellent
approach to address these issues: one
infant, one child, one family at a time.
Along with the members
of the West Virginia Chapter of the
American Academy of Pediatrics, I urge
our Legislators to support a
supplemental appropriation for in-home
Phillips is a
Charleston area pediatrician and
president of the West Virginia Chapter
of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
This article was published in the June
13, 2006 Charleston Gazette.