The home visiting program Healthy Families America (HFA) has had multiple positive impacts on health outcomes and healthy behaviors among participating mothers and infants in Arkansas, according to an evaluation report by researchers with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and ACHI.
HFA is a national evidence-based home visiting program designed to provide parenting education and support to families facing challenges such as single parenthood, low incomes, childhood histories of abuse, substance abuse, mental health issues, and domestic violence. Families voluntarily enroll in the program, and HFA provides routine assessments and home visits to assist the families with child development, healthcare needs, federal program assistance, employment and education opportunities, and other needs. Parents can enroll prenatally, and the services continue for three to five years after a child is born.
In this evaluation, researchers with the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at UAMS’ College of Medicine and ACHI assessed whether the HFA program impacted rates of preterm birth, healthy birth weight, childhood immunization, and child and maternal healthcare use among a group of mothers and infants enrolled in HFA in Arkansas, compared with a control group of similarly high-risk mothers and infants not enrolled in HFA. Results showed a positive effect on birth outcomes for infants when services were provided prenatally. Newborns in HFA had significantly lower odds of being born pre-term and marginally lower odds of being born with low birth weight than newborns in the control group.
Additionally, mothers in HFA were more likely to report an intention to breastfeed. In the postpartum period, both children and mothers in HFA were more likely to use healthcare systems: Children had a greater number of total outpatient medical appointments from birth through age 3, and mothers had a greater number of mental health appointments. Other outcomes included increases in the use of speech language pathology services and early intervention services for HFA infants and a greater chance of HFA infants receiving immunizations in the first year of life.
These findings are among the first to document the association between the HFA home visiting program and birth and health outcomes for mothers and children in Arkansas. The results demonstrate an increased likelihood of positive birth outcomes and child development for families enrolled in Arkansas’s HFA program, compared to similarly high-risk mothers and children not enrolled in HFA.
Arkansas’s waiver application for the Arkansas Health and Opportunity for Me, or ARHOME, program, set to take effect next year, proposes to provide an opportunity to vastly expand the capacity and reach of home visiting services in Arkansas. Rigorous evaluations of existing models operating in Arkansas can help state officials and birthing hospitals determine how best to draw on this investment to improve child health in Arkansas.
This evaluation was funded through the Health Resources and Services Administration of the US Department of Health and Human Services.
An evaluation report on another home visiting program in Arkansas, Following Baby Back Home, can be found on our website.