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Coordinated home visiting and early care and education referrals can help families get the services they need

The early care and education (ECE) and home visiting (HV) fields both provide services directly to children and families and refer families, as needed, to community resources to support children’s development and family well-being. Greater cooperation between the ECE and HV fields can help more families connect with services to support positive outcomes. The following suggestions can guide practitioners toward realizing this goal.

1. Strengthen early childhood networks. The HV and ECE fields each have strengths and weaknesses in referring families to services. Home visitors are well aware of the services available in their communities because they regularly provide referrals (e.g., mental health services, housing resources, or job assistance). However, home visitors see families once or twice a month and may be less familiar with families’ needs than ECE providers, who see families more regularly. Conversely, although ECE providers know families well, they may not be aware of available community services for families.

Strengthened connections between home visiting networks and child care providers could leverage the respective strengths of these fields to improve referrals for families. Efforts to connect ECE with HV are starting to emerge—from the federal level, with the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships; to the state level, with the inclusion of home visiting programs in quality rating and improvement systems.

2. Identify effective, individualized referral strategies. Studies show that home visiting models are effective at referring families to necessary community services, but the home visiting field can still improve its referral process. Identifying effective, individualized referral strategies could greatly improve families’ receipt of services. Previous research on Early Head Start (EHS), which includes a home visiting component, found that EHS families were more likely to access early intervention services than families who did not receive EHS when they were offered an individualized strategy (e.g., when home visitors used translators for non-English speakers or accounted for the family’s cultural norms). Further research can focus on identifying which referral strategies used in child care settings and home visiting programs are most effective for different populations. Precision research is a new research method that could help identify these individualized strategies.

3. Make a habit of following up on suggested referrals. Families may react positively to referrals from ECE providers because of the strong relationships between providers and families. However, ECE providers may be reluctant to ask parents whether they followed through on a referral for fear of hurting their relationship with the family. ECE providers could look to HV for effective strategies on following through with referrals without jeopardizing their relationships with families. For example, home visitors may contact the service provider on behalf of the family (warm referrals), or even sometimes accompany families to service providers. Depending on their specific relationship with a family and the capacity of staff, these strategies may work for ECE providers, too.

Both the ECE and HV fields aim to improve child and family well-being, partly through referrals to necessary community services. When home visiting and ECE providers work together, families are more likely to have their needs identified and obtain successful referrals to community-based services. Early childhood stakeholders can build a coordinated early childhood network via collaborations between home visiting and ECE at the federal, state, and/or community levels. This stronger early childhood system will better connect families to the services they need to ensure healthy child development.

Check out the other blogs in this series:

“Sharing research and innovation across home visiting and early care and education can better serve families”

Coaching to change adult behavior: What can home visiting and early care and education learn from each other?

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