Testimony by Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen before the Committee on Human Services regarding CFSA

February 25, 2021
Person Testifying: Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen
Title: Director of Early Childhood Policy and Programs, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Before the Human Services Committee
Type of Hearing: Agency Performance Oversight Hearing - Fiscal Year 2021

Good morning, Councilmember Nadeau and members of the Human Services Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council as it reviews the Child and Family Services Agency’s performance. I am Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen, Director of Early Childhood Policy and Programs for DC Action and Chair of the DC Home Visiting Council.

DC Action uses research, data, and a racial equity lens to break down barriers that stand in the way of all kids reaching their full potential. Our collaborative advocacy initiatives harness the power of young people and all residents to raise their voices to create change. Through our signature coalitions, Under 3 DC and the DC Home Visiting Council, we empower families and communities. We are also the home of DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource that tracks key indicators of child and youth well-being.

Today, my remarks will focus on CFSA’s early childhood home visiting programs, which the agency both funds directly and supports in partnership with the DC Department of Health. In particular, CFSA administers the Father-Child Attachment program at Mary’s Center and the Parent Support and Home Visitation program at Community Family Life Services, and supports DC Health’s implementation of a home visiting program for teen parents in or leaving foster care.

DC Action and the DC Home Visiting Council appreciate the Council’s past support of home visiting programs, but it is necessary to provide home visiting programs with consistent, recurring funding so programs can strengthen and sustain the long-term relationships that make them so effective.

COVID-19 has emphasized the importance of home visiting programs.

Home visiting is a powerful, evidence-based family support and coaching strategy. Home visiting professionals cultivate trusting relationships with families over months or years in order to address family and child needs including kindergarten readiness; healthy birth outcomes; maternal and child social, emotional, and physical health; and family economic security. “Home visiting” is somewhat of a misnomer for these incredible programs, as they serve families not only in their homes, but in any setting that families and home visitors feel comfortable, a flexibility unique to this strategy.

Home visitors partner with families to help them thrive, and serve as a link to the broader system of resources in DC, which may otherwise be difficult for motivated and resourceful parents to navigate on their own. Family support and coaching as offered through home visiting programs can help parents become stronger advocates for their own families and more engaged and responsive parents. You have already heard – and will continue to hear – evidence of this directly from parents today.

Across the country and in DC, many direct service programs that deliver services on-site or in  person came to a halt at the onset of the pandemic in 2020 and had to restructure in order to serve families. However, because of their long-term trusting relationships with families and the adaptability of the model, home visiting programs quickly and easily pivoted to televisits to provide a relatively seamless continuum of services for families. As families’ challenges and stress have risen over the course of the pandemic, home visiting programs have been an unwavering lifeline.

Home visiting helps build safe and resilient families

The pandemic has been stressful for all of us. The level of stress can become toxic, however, for families where parents have lost jobs, who are living in crowded housing with family members or friends, and in which children are unable to participate in their early learning programs. Social isolation exacerbates everything.

Especially in times of crisis, it’s essential for parents to feel confident in their ability to care for their children. Home visiting is an effective tool for increasing family factors associated with lower rates of child abuse and neglect and ensuring that families have access to health and safety resources. Home visitors teach the skills and provide the support to strengthen that confidence. The public health emergency has increased the risk for child abuse and neglect due to families’ higher levels of financial strain, emotional stressors, and social isolation. Home visitors are already trained to support families managing difficult circumstances and facing a wide range of obstacles. This crisis management skill set makes them well-positioned to support families in these extraordinarily difficult times.

Home visitors are a vital lifeline for those at risk of harm. The strong bonds home visitors build with their families and the consistent support they provide create a firm foundation that enables home visitors to help families through the extraordinary stress and hardship they’re currently experiencing. Our home visitors not only provide families with what they need, but also stability, reassurance, and the knowledge that no matter how hard it gets, they will help them get through it.

Sustaining consistent funding for home visiting is vital to District children and families

It is critical that home visiting programs maintain the current level of funding to be able to, at a minimum, continue to serve families who already needed support prior to the current economic and health crises and who are strongly motivated to build good lives for their children. While one-time funds have been allocated for many of these programs in the past, at this time we must designate recurring funding to ensure a continuity of care.

In recent years, home visiting investments with CFSA have included

  • $160,000 for the Parent Support and Home Visitation program for parents who have experienced homelessness, are survivors of domestic violence, or are returning citizens
  • $150,000 for the Father-Child Attachment program to help fathers build and maintain healthy relationships with their children.
  • $160,471 to DC Health as part of an MOU in which DC Health provides Parents as Teachers home visiting services for pregnant or parenting teens who are in or exiting foster care.

We thank CFSA for their partnership with these family support programs. However, for several years, most of this funding has been awarded on an annual basis, creating an instability that threatens programs and is detrimental to the families they serve. Home visiting programs depend on trust and reliability established with families over time. When programs are at constant risk of losing funding, or experience lapses or cuts in funding as they did in FY 2019, the instability can leave families without a trusted resource that they have come to rely on.  While this is always a disservice to families, the heightened stressors of COVID-19 and the impact it will likely have in the years to come make it more important than ever to continue investing in family support programs such as the home visiting programs CFSA funds.

We implore CFSA and the Council to find recurring funds to sustain these valuable programs. The modest investment, given the dollars previously awarded, goes a long way to prevent abuse and neglect. Therefore, we ask that this funding be maintained on a recurring basis.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I welcome your questions.