Proponents: Home-based family programs pay for themselves

Aryza Eaton (right) and boyfriend Steven Reinhardt (left) take care of her son, Scott, with the help of Early Head Start Home Based — a York City-based program that fosters parental and childhood development through home visits. (Photo: Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)

Aryza Eaton faced a tough challenge when she became pregnant at age 14, but fortunately, she found a lifeline.

The Early Head Start home-based program partnered her with Michele Pugh, who visits once a week to help foster learning, socialization and healthy development for her son Scott, who will turn 3 in April.

The program serves prenatal mothers and families with infants and toddlers, especially those struggling with poverty, lack of educational attainment and unemployment.

It's about setting goals and involving parents in that process as well, Pugh said. The curriculum teaches parents that they are their child's first and most influential teachers while building on the parents' own skills and strengths.

Now 18, Eaton lives in Newberry Township with her boyfriend, Steven Reinhardt Jr., 18, who helps her take care of Scott.

Reducing crime: Seventy-six individuals receive services from the York City-based program — overseen by the nonprofit Community Progress Council — which law enforcement officials say helps reduce risk factors for crime, substance abuse and neglect. 

Gov. Tom Wolf's proposed $5 million increase in home visit funding in his draft budget is a small step, but more would still be needed, according to a statement from the statewide coalition Childhood Begins at Home. 

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The coalition is seeking investment in six home-visit programs throughout the state, arguing that the return on investment — literacy, health, safety and economic security —is far greater than the expense.

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids — a group of more than 200 law enforcement officials — released a report Thursday, Feb. 7, that says these programs have real-world results. For example, the report highlighted a study of Nurse-Family Partnership — which also serves York County — that showed by age 15, participants had half as many verified incidents of child abuse and neglect as those who did not participate. Non-participants in the study had twice as many arrests and more than twice as many convictions — nine times as many for young women — by age 19.

"There’s so much hard-wiring that goes on in the first several years of life that just can’t be replaced," said David Turkewitz, chairman of pediatrics at York Hospital.

Overwhelming: That's why taking a proactive approach to partnering with parents can have a huge impact, York County District Attorney Dave Sunday said.

"Life becomes overwhelming for parents, and children usually get left behind," he said.

York County District Attorney Dave Sunday talks about the York County Law Enforcement Resource Center during a tour in York City, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The primary influence on a child is the parent, and if the parent is involved, the child will see law enforcement very little, said Spring Garden Township Police Chief George Swartz.

Eaton said she used to be hot-headed and in and out of trouble before meeting Pugh, and her focus was not always on Scott.

"If it weren't for them, I'd probably be locked up by now," she said.

And she said the program also helped her with more than just raising her son — it helped her become who she is, pushed her to be better in school and helped her set goals that led to her first job.

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Though neither of her parents graduated from high school, she is committed to completing her education — both she and Reinhardt are planning to enroll in Red Lion Area High School this year.

"Everything that I have in my life is because of (the home-visit program)," she said.

Early Head Start /Head Start of York makes their way down Lindberg Ave, as part of the Education First Parade and Rally Saturday, April 30, 2016 at Penn Park. Amanda J. Cain

The program's coordinator, Morgana Miller, said the relationship is just as rewarding for the visitors, and Pugh's experience confirms that.

"These relationships help me to grow and learn also as an educator and person," Pugh said. "I am richer because of what they give to me.”

More funding: Over past two budget cycles, the state invested about $10 million in home visiting — the first time in about a decade that the programs saw state support, said president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children Kari King.

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The coalition said an estimated 16,000 participants — only 5 percent of those who need it most — will be served by the six government-funded programs this fiscal year.

State Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, said the government needs to do a better job of tying programs together — not just giving money for food but serving the whole family — and making sure agencies can use the money as needed, without limitations.