Voices’ Blog

Nanci Pedulla Champions Benefits of Home Visiting for Child Development

Posted:  -  By: Cassie Price

Nanci Pedulla, director of Healthy Families, a Northern Virginia Family Service home visiting program, has witnessed countless examples of the positive impact of home visiting programs on children and families. Families that participate voluntarily in these programs include recent immigrants, those in substance-abuse recovery, those living in communities experiencing violence, and those with children with special health or developmental needs.

Nanci shared the story of one family whose child was born with Down Syndrome.

Throughout the mother’s pregnancy and after the birth of her baby, the Healthy Families home visitor gently tried to prepare the mother for how to nurture a baby with Down Syndrome in a way that would promote optimal development. The mother followed the home visitor’s instructions on how to bond with her baby but steadfastly refused to believe her child had Down Syndrome.

Only when the mother realized her baby wasn’t hitting developmental milestones was she willing to receive additional resources.

“The home visitor started bringing the mother books and videos about caring for a child with Down Syndrome, even showing her developmentally appropriate games to play with the baby on an iPad,” Nanci said. “The mom began going to seminars and getting involved in the special needs community, ultimately becoming an advocate for special needs kids. The home visitor gently encouraged her in her journey from denial to advocacy.”

Like this mother, Nanci understands the role of advocacy in creating a better future for kids. For years, she has made the trek from Northern Virginia to Richmond to participate in the Home Visiting Advocacy Day at the General Assembly, an event organized by the home visiting umbrella organization Families Forward Virginia.

Voices for Virginia’s Children contributes to the day’s success by providing participants with data and talking points.

“Voices makes its message clear, succinct, and relevant,” Nanci said. “We use Voices’ data and talking points to continually remind policymakers why home visiting matters to kids.”

“We use Voices’ data and talking points to continually remind policymakers why home visiting matters to kids.”

The messaging has been working. This year the General Assembly allocated an additional $850,000 over the biennium to support the evaluation, needs assessment, and professional development for home-based parenting education programs.

“Research shows we will have greater impact if we get involved with the family from the get-go, when the mother is pregnant,” Nanci said. “We focus on the whole family and use the Parents as Teachers curriculum to promote child development and health.”

“Research shows we will have greater impact if we get involved with the family from the get-go, when the mother is pregnant.”

Healthy Families home visitors connect parents of newborns to medical providers to ensure proper medical care, including immunizations. They screen both parents for signs of depression, coach expectant mothers on proper prenatal care, and promote family self-sufficiency.

“Relationship building is critical to our work,” Nanci said. “We treat our home visitors with respect, they treat the parents with respect, and the parents treat the children with respect. Then the children’s brains develop in a healthy way that permits them to form attachments.”

Nanci said she appreciates Voices’ support of the home visiting network. Voices’ KIDS COUNT data informs her advocacy and grant writing. She had especially high praise for Mary Beth Testa, Voices’ Northern Virginia consultant.

“Mary Beth does an outstanding job of keeping us informed about issues,” Nanci said. “She comes to our meetings, organizes us to go out and speak, and speaks about issues herself. It’s awesome to be able to tap into her expertise.”

Together, Healthy Families, other home visiting programs, and Voices are making a difference for Virginia’s youngest residents.

To learn more about Voices’ recent work on home visiting and other early childhood issues, read our “2018 Early Childhood Agenda” blog and our “2018 Legislative Agenda Highlights” blog.

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