The 2021 legislative session in New Jersey was an historic one for young children and their families. With the passage of S690, New Jersey established a statewide universal newborn home visitation program in the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, making the state the second in the nation, after Oregon, with this level of home visitation.
The Universal Home Visiting Program legislation, which was championed by Senator Teresa Ruiz, passed unanimously through both the Senate and Assembly on June 24th and was signed into state law on July 29th.
The new program will provide a registered nurse to conduct home visits for all mothers and newborns within two weeks of birth, and serves both adoptive and resource parents, as well as those families who experience stillbirths. The program will be at no cost to the family. Home visits will feature an evidence-based evaluation of the physical, emotional, and social factors affecting parents and their newborn including physical and mental health wellness checks, breastfeeding support and reproductive planning, environmental assessments of the home, and assessments for social determinants of health, such as food security, transportation access, childcare planning, and employment to ensure families have their needs identified and met.
Early childhood advocates in New Jersey were crucial to this win.
Creating an infrastructure for a universal home visiting system was one of the key goals in Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ)’s Unlocking Potential prenatal-to-three plan. ACNJ also worked directly with Sen. Ruiz and her staff to strengthen the bill. This included facilitating a meeting with policymakers from Oregon to learn how they designed, funded, and advocated for their legislation.
ACNJ and many of its partners testified before the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, and several submitted written testimony, including the New Jersey Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the New Jersey Association for Obstetrics and Gynecology and the New Jersey Hospital Association.
Key advocates’ recommendations that were incorporated in the final legislation included:
- the home visitor should be a specially trained nurse,
- the program should offer more than one visit,
- the model utilized should be based on criteria established by the US Department of Health and Human Services for an evidence-based early childhood home visiting service delivery model that has been rigorously researched
“This legislation is the beginning of a pathway forward that connects every caregiver and child to the healthy future that they deserve,” says Cecilia Zalkind, President of ACNJ.
And, fortunately, the state’s governor agrees. “Home visiting programs have tremendous benefits for mothers, infants, and families,” Governor Murphy said at the signing. “Research has shown that these programs not only decrease infant and maternal mortality, but also improve mental health, increase child educational attainment, decrease abuse and neglect, and strengthen family success and economic growth. This universal home visiting program is a critical step forward in making our state stronger and fairer for all families, giving them the tools and supports they need for success and resilience, and ensuring New Jersey remains the best place to start and raise a family.”