Home visiting programs have proved their value for reducing crime and strengthening our economy and deserve the support of Gov. Paul LePage, Maine legislators and Congress.

The programs bring trained nurses or other trained mentors into the homes of low-income, often young, pregnant mothers and expectant fathers to help them make their homes safe, promote healthy growth and development for their children, and connect them with needed services, including helping them stay in school or get good jobs.

These programs also help mothers and fathers navigate the trials and tribulations of parenthood, including the challenges that, when left unchecked, can lead to abuse and neglect.

The governor has proclaimed April to be Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month.

Reducing child abuse and neglect must be a top priority here in Maine, where there were nearly 4,000 confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect in 2013. Of the 21 homicides that occurred in Maine in the last year, 14 involved domestic violence. Eight of those victims were children younger than 13, including the recent, tragic story from Lewiston, in which a father was charged in the suffocation of his 3-month-old son who, his father said, wouldn’t stop crying.

We need to do whatever we can to prevent situations such as these, and research shows that high-quality home visiting programs can help that effort. Funding for Maine Families home visiting program, however, is in jeopardy.

Parenting is the biggest challenge many people will ever face, but it can be overwhelming for single and poor teen parents. Maine Families home visitors begin to help first-time, young mothers before their child is even born and work with families for about a year, but longer when needed. Home visitors help families build skills and confidence for managing the stresses of parenting a young child. The program also helps to improve children’s health; children in Maine Families are more likely to see a doctor regularly and be up to date on immunizations than children statewide.

Substantial research suggests that high-quality home visiting programs have other benefits, including reductions in child abuse and neglect and future crime. A study of another home visiting model, Nurse Family Partnership, cut child abuse and neglect in half among families it served. In addition, 15 years after the program began, high-risk mothers who did not receive home visits had more than three times as many criminal convictions as those who did participate. By the time they were 19, daughters who were in the control group who had not participated in the programs had nine times more convictions than those who did.

While potential crime prevention and public safety issues are important, taxpayers also will be pleased to hear that these programs can strengthen our economy. Voluntary home visiting programs are a smart investment in human capital because the programs teach young parents the skills they need to raise their children and themselves, which can lead to better educational outcomes for two generations of Mainers.

Research also supports that conclusion. One quality voluntary home visiting program boosted disadvantaged parents’ earnings by $350 a month, while a program in Memphis, Tenn., reduced at-risk families’ reliance on welfare by $1,200 per year. Furthermore, a financial study of the Nurse Family Partnership home visiting program found the program achieved an average benefit (net savings minus costs) of $17,000 for every family served.

We thank U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, for supporting federal funding for home visiting programs and hope that Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, will do the same in the coming weeks. We also hope that Maine’s lawmakers will take similar actions to support home visiting when home visiting funding legislation comes before them this spring.

We know that voluntary home visiting programs can help us reduce crime and keep our communities safe. We also know that these programs can improve the health of our economy. That’s why business and law enforcement leaders have found common ground on this issue. We urge our Maine policymakers to make voluntary home visiting a priority and ensure funding for this vital program.

Randall Liberty, who is Kennebec County sheriff, has worked in law enforcement and corrections for more than 30 years. Charles Soltan, an Augusta attorney at a regulatory law firm, is chairman of the Maine Children’s Trust.

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