Testimony of Mary Katherine West, Home Visiting Program Manager, before the Committee on Facilities and Family Services

April 25, 2024
Testimony
Person Testifying: Mary Katherine West
Title: Home Visiting Program Manager, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Committee on Facilities and Family Services
Type of Hearing: Budget Hearing

Good morning Chairperson Lewis George and members of the Committee on Facilities and Family Services. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee as it conducts this budget hearing for the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) . My name is Mary Katherine West, and I am the Chair of the DC Home Visiting Council and Program Manager for Early Childhood at DC Action. I am a member of the Under 3 DC Coalition and a Ward 1 resident.

​The DC Home Visiting Council is a body of home visiting providers, local government agency representatives, early childhood advocates, managed care organizations, and other partners that works to strengthen the understanding, implementation, and sustainability of home visiting as a strategy to support positive child and family outcomes in the District of Columbia.

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 bring the power of young people and all residents to raise their voices to create change. We are also the home of DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource that tracks key indicators of child and youth well-being. 

Home visiting services are critical to support the District’s families, and must be preserved in the FY25 Budget. CFSA directly funds three home visiting programs: the Parent Support and Home Visitation program at Community Family Life Services (CFLS), Mary’s Center’s Father-Child Attachment Program, and the Family Place’s HIPPY Home Visiting Program, which served a combined total of 209 families in FY23. In addition, CFSA provides funding to DC Health to support evidence-based home visiting services to 192 caregivers and 241 children through Healthy Families America and Parents as Teachers, and administers the federal Community Based Child Abuse and Prevention Grant to the HIPPY Home Visiting Program through Creative Soultions for Communities.

To learn more about how these programs function and support families through evidence based practices and culturally responsive home-grown practices, please refer to my recent performance oversight testimony. 

Home visiting programs are centered on creating strong and lasting connections, and home visiting programs need funding that reflects this model. While programs support families with tangible resources like diapers and formula, they also provide education and intangible support to help parents meet their goals in parenting confidence, mental health, and economic security. A home visitor may help a parent get a higher paying job, reach an educational milestone, reconnect with or gain visitation or custody of their child, or apply for social services like SNAP, ERAP, or Medicaid.

In FY25, we ask the Council to maintain or restore home visiting funding to FY24 levels at $770,471.  

Thank you Councilmember Lewis George for your investment of $300K in home visiting in FY24. This investment followed a one-time increase to CFSA home visiting in FY23 of $70,500. 

We appreciate your continuous commitment to DC families through home visiting services. We know you intended the FY24 dollars to be a recurring, long-term investment to support home visiting programs and their workers and the families they serve. 

However, at the CFSA Budget Engagement Forum, CFSA shared that the $300K recurring increase was not in the FY25 budget. This reduction, along with a loss of $70K, would set home visiting programs back to FY22 funding levels. If set back to FY22 funding levels, CFLS and the Father Child Attachment program both would face budget reductions of approximately 40%.

The home visiting programs under CFSA predominantly rely on local funding and some federal funding, and these changes have the potential to result in staff cuts and reductions in services. 

Home visiting programs spend the vast majority of their budgets on the salaries of their workers who provide these services. Cuts to home visiting programs result in job insecurity, instability, or even job loss for current workers. In the District, the majority of home visitors are Black and brown women who have high levels of education and skill. These workers deserve to be recognized and well compensated for their critical work. 

Losing a home visitor creates instability in a family’s support system and a potential gap in access to critical resources. It also causes additional stress on other program staff. Either families are removed from programs, or other home visitors and managers have to take on the additional families while a new home visitor is hired, onboarded, trained, and builds up to the previous home visitors’ capacity. 

We know that reductions were not your intention for CFSA home visiting and appreciate the support from your team to work to get clarity on the CFSA’s funding for home visiting in FY25. 

Home visiting programs in CFSA primarily serve families with unique needs that have been identified as priority groups for prevention and support programs. 

Fathers are a priority group in CFSA’s prevention outreach strategy, and Mary’s Center Father Child Attachment program is the only home visiting program created specifically for fathers, focusing on the unique challenges they face in their parenting journey. Last year’s additional funding primarily helped this program increase base salaries for home visitors, which supported retention of the current home visitor and recruitment of a new home visitor for a long vacant position, so that the program can serve its full capacity. 

FCA also created a new position for a Fatherhood Supervisor, which is designed to carry half a typical caseload. This new position will provide much needed support for home visitors, as quality supervision is proven to improve service quality, home visitor satisfaction and retention, and family outcomes. The position will also increase the number of slots available for fathers from 50 to 62. Finally, the program added a budget line item for incentives for participants to complete program targets and for participants who refer a new participant that enrolls in the program. This encourages fathers to share their experiences from the program with their peers to increase the reach of the program. 

Community Family Life Services’ parent education and home visiting program primarily serves parents who are experiencing homelessness, survivors of domestic violence, or formerly incarcerated, which are also priority groups for CFSA prevention services. At CFLS, the FY24 investment allowed the program to move a part-time staff member into a full-time position. Because of additional staff hours, the program can serve more families and provide a wider array of times for home visiting through expanding the staff’s after-hours capacity. This flexibility allows home visitors to more easily respond to parent needs and families’ schedules. 

At The Family Place, the majority of participants are immigrant families with low incomes, some of whom are displaced and currently living in shelters. The FY24 allocation allowed the program to move a part-time home visitor into a full-time role. The Family Place also opened a position for a new home visitor and hired a data manager. High administrative burden is a long-standing challenge for home visitors and a significant source of dissatisfaction with the role. With the data manager, the Family Place is able to increase home visitor satisfaction on the job, which is key to retention. This also means that home visitors are able to spend more time with families in the field rather than completing data entry. 

CFSA should also maintain its investment to DC Health’s administration of Parents as Teachers (PAT) and Healthy Families America (HFA) through the First Families prevention Act, as they help prevent child abuse and neglect in the District.

In FY25, we are asking the Council to ensure the CFSA budget is stable at its FY24 level of $770,471. The increase to programs in FY24 was not intended to be a one-time increase, but an investment for programs to expand and support their workers for years to come.

The DC Council and CFSA have affirmed the importance and impact of home visiting through previous funding allocations. These investments have been valuable for program administration and must be sustained. Funding home visiting programs in the District promotes equity for both the workers and the families participating in these services. We ask that the DC Council prioritize preserving or restoring funding for home visiting programs to continue supporting programs, their workers, and most importantly, the children and families they serve. 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today, and I welcome any questions.