New Brief Highlights Ways to Improve Home Visiting Programs for Immigrants and Dual Language Learner Families

Blog Post
Oct. 3, 2019

Home visiting programs aim to support the wellbeing of families and their young children by providing resources such as information, training, screenings, and referrals to services that benefit young children. However, research suggests that immigrant and dual language learner (DLL) families are often underrepresented in home visiting programs. Last month, the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy released a policy brief and hosted a webinar about the home visiting landscape for immigrant and DLL families and strategies for increasing their participation in these programs.

Nationally, children of immigrants and DLLs represent a growing share of the young child population (0-5)—with one out of four children having at least one immigrant parent and close to one and three living in a household where a language other than English is spoken. As the brief notes, these families would stand to benefit from home visiting programs given that “children of immigrants and refugees are more likely than other U.S. children to be exposed to trauma and other stressors in their early years, which can have significant negative impacts on their healthy socioemotional and cognitive development.” These families may also experience racism, discrimination, and financial insecurities.

As Maki Park, senior policy analyst at MPI, noted in the webinar, home visiting programs are a uniquely promising intervention for immigrant families. Specifically, by offering services in the home they are able to reach isolated families and communities. In addition, some programs recruit staff directly from the community they serve and who share similar cultural and linguistic backgrounds as their clients.

“Home visitors can serve as a touch point to the wide range of services that immigrants and refugee families may need but do not have access to. And in this way they take on the work of coaching them in systems and cultural navigation that could otherwise be really challenging and restrictive for an immigrant family that’s recently arrived or has limited English proficiency (LEP) and limited cultural knowledge or social networks,” said Park.

However, while home visiting programs have expanded over the last ten years, more efforts need to be made to increase access for non-English speaking families. The federal Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, which provides grants to states, U.S. territories and community based organizations to implement research-based home visiting programs, does not list immigrants or families who speak a language other than English at home as priority service populations. Moreover, the brief notes that programs funded by MIECHV do not collect data on the home language or LEP status and program evaluations have failed to examine the impact of different models for DLL and immigrant families.

Moreover, these families may face barriers to participating in home visiting programs due to language barriers, lack of culturally and linguistically trained program staff, and hesitation to access social services (e.g., early childhood education, health, nutrition) due to fear of immigration consequences.

But there are opportunities to remove these barriers and increase access. Indeed, a strength of home visiting programs is that they can be flexibly designed to meet the needs of the families they serve.

For example, the ParentChild+ Program in Washington State demonstrates effective strategies to meet the needs of these families by partnering with community-based organizations (CBOs), which provide home visiting personnel who are culturally and linguistically diverse and capable of serving immigrant and DLL families. Their program is designed to provide one-on-one modeling of reading and play activities between parents and their children. In this program, families receive at least 92 visits, connections to community resources, support services, and educational tools such as books and toys. Pamela Williams, Program Director of ParentChild+, shared that the program has recognized that "if we are going to address inequities, we need to start early in the lives of toddlers and their caregivers...So [ParentChild+] begins early in the lives of vulnerable toddlers and their parents to create a pathway of possibilities."

The brief offers several suggestions for how to help tailor the services provided in home visiting services for immigrant, refugee, and DLL families:

1) Encouraging parents to nurture their children’s home-language development;

2) Sharing information with parents about their children’s development and longer-term academic success;

3) Reaching out to families who may feel isolated by traditional models of family services;

4) Providing linguistically and culturally appropriate early screenings for DLLs to identify the support they need, including trauma-informed services;

5) Connecting parents with a wide range of services, including trauma-informed care, health, nutrition, education, and other social services that can serve them in their language.

Beyond tailoring services to meet the needs of linguistically diverse families, the brief also provides several recommendations to help increase access and participation in home visiting programs, including collecting data on participants’ home languages and levels of English proficiency to help drive program improvements and capture the extent to which these families are being served in home visiting programs.

Another recommendation is for programs to collaborate with agencies and community-based organizations that serve immigrant and refugee families. State and local community-based organizations already serving these families can help home visiting programs become more accessible to them. These community partnerships can help recruit, engage, and retain these families by informing them about the existence, eligibility, and benefits of home visiting programs.

Home visiting programs have the potential to make a positive impact on the development of DLL children and increase access to a range of resources for immigrant families. But as the brief notes, in order to capitalize on this potential, more research is needed on who is being served in current programs and which program models are most effective at meeting the needs of linguistically diverse immigrant families.

Enjoy what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter to receive updates on what’s new in Education Policy!

Related Topics
English Learners Dual Language Learners