When families are stressed and cannot access resources like parent coaching, their chances of experiencing negative outcomes increase significantly.
9 million U.S. families are experiencing two or more stressors, including poverty, parental mental illness, being very young parents, etc. These families could benefit from home visiting, yet only 300,000 are reached. Currently, even those 300,000 cannot be reached in the traditional way. So we are having to find new ways to work with families, including ones who are experiencing even greater dysregulation than before, while the new “normal” due to the COVID-19 pandemic is evolving almost daily.
The solution, both immediate and longer term, is Virtual Home Visiting, a combination of the Parents as Teachers model and proven Telehealth practices. This innovation was developed in partnership with Dr. Dorian Traube at the University of Southern California (USC).
Through a pilot project with USC we already demonstrated that Virtual Home Visiting (VHV) is feasible and desirable. Parents who participated in VHV increased their knowledge of child development and were motivated to try new parenting strategies; these exciting results mirror those found with traditional home visiting.
VHV increases access. It makes it possible to reach underserved families such as those who are in the military, medically fragile, housing insecure, or live in hard to reach areas. And currently, it is the best and safest way to reach all families that were already engaged in on-ground home visiting prior to the COVID-19 crisis and to serve new families, at a time when many other kinds of supports are simply not available or accessible while the need for support is likely even greater than ever before.
Virtual home visiting improves efficiency. By eliminating travel time, caseloads can potentially increase. The best thing about virtual home visiting is that parents love it and it is a match for this generation of parents looking for real-time support.
Parents are ready. They are looking for parenting advice online and connecting through screens to loved ones and healthcare providers.
Implementing organizations are ready. Over just a five-week period since the COVID-19 crisis really hit, PAT affiliates in at least 37 states have scheduled and completed over 47,500 virtual events via interactive video conferencing or telecommunication (both personal visits and group meetings), benefiting thousands of families across the country.
States are ready. Currently, all 50 states reimburse for live-video telehealth services and early interventions like occupational therapy. Home visiting can be next. And in fact, the COVID-19 crisis has propelled many local, state, and federal funders to allow, for the first time, organizations to be reimbursed or funded to deliver home visiting services virtually.
We acknowledge that there are barriers to full implementation of this solution, primarily related to a lack of equitable access to what is increasingly a basic need for everyone: internet access, sufficient data plans, and the hardware needed to access it (the digital divide). Partnerships with internet providers, Telehealth clinics, national funders and policy makers will be needed for full scaling of this solution.