Home-visit programs offer a low-cost, targeted approach to enhance school readiness for kids in some of Washington’s most under-resourced communities. And it works.

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Children who have a strong start stand a better chance of lifelong success. We know this because science has shown that the first five years of life are when the child’s brain develops the fastest. Parents can shape this development through simple back-and-forth interactions like talking and playing together — exactly what high quality home visiting programs help parents incorporate into their daily routines.

Parents Angelina and Darrell, members of the Quinault Nation in Taholah, have participated in Save the Children’s Early Steps to School Success program since their daughter Bailey — now 1 ½ — was born. They also have a five-month-old daughter, Lila.

Angelina and Darrell have learned about how their daughters were developing language and literacy skills that prepare them for school and a lifetime of learning. Their Early Steps home visitor incorporates cultural activities like traditional songs and stories to support the girls’ knowledge of their heritage and build self-confidence. Angelina says Bailey now enjoys reading books more than playing with toys.

This combination of building on parents’ strengths and delivering real-time support from trained professionals is unique. And home visiting programs are so critical. They help inspire a lifelong love of learning for children. And they provide vital support to parents in underserved communities. Home visitors see every day how critical it is — for families and communities as a whole — to have someone who supports them and is there to ensure their success.

We were so pleased that Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed a bipartisan budget agreement that reauthorizes funding for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, a voluntary home visiting program that serves approximately 160,000 American families nationwide. Now is the time for Washington state to step up and make our state a leader on this program.

The need is clear. Sixteen percent of children in Washington live in poverty. On top of the many stressors these kids face in their day-to-day lives, many do not have access to the high-quality early learning and child-care programs they deserve. By age 4, children growing up in poverty can be as much as 18 months behind in development, compared to other children.

We are grateful for Gov. Jay Inslee’s support of home visiting in his budget proposal, but there is more we need to do. We urge the state Legislature to invest an additional $5 million in home visiting. This will bring services to 665 more children through programs like Early Steps, the Parent Child Home Program (PCHP), Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) and Parents as Teachers, giving more children a chance to flourish.

Many organizations have worked for decades across the state to expand home visiting programs. Save the Children introduced Early Steps to School Success, which is built on private-public partnerships with local schools and states, in 2006. It delivers voluntary, high-quality early childhood development services to children ages 0 to 5 and their families in 14 states.

Home visits conducted by trained early childhood coordinators from the community are a key component of the program. From birth to age 3, coordinators provide parents with age-appropriate activities for their kids, help monitor developmental progress and offer suggestions on how to interact with young children to promote early language and literacy.

This is a low-cost, targeted approach to enhance school readiness for kids in some of Washington’s most under-resourced communities. And it works.

During the 2016-17 school year, 92 percent of 3-year-olds in Early Steps, which currently serves about 200 children in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties, scored at or above the normal range for vocabulary acquisition.

Although birth to age 3 is a critical window of development, there are few programs that effectively target our youngest learners. Home visiting is one of them.

According to Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, the rate of return on investments in early childhood development for many children can be 13 percent per child, per year due to improved outcomes in education, health, sociability, economic productivity and reduced crime.

An increase in the budget will allow more families, like Bailey and her parents, to put their children on a path for lifelong success.