Here Comes Big Brother: Home Visiting Laws Threaten Parental Rights Nationwide


Now that researchers and the staunchest proponents of the progressive nanny state are starting to admit that government preschool programs are failing to improve academic achievement for poor children, the big-government Left is joining with the corporate establishment to expand the even more invasive and still unsuccessful idea of home visiting. Bills are being pushed to do so in deep blue states like Minnesota, Oregon and Washington — plus, as documented by Cheri Kiesecker, in other states like Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire and New Mexico.

The many problems with these programs have been documented in-depth at The Federalist and in this space (see here and here). Here is a review of the major concerns:

Lack of Consent for Referrals

The word “consent” for referrals does not exist in the Minnesota, Oregon or Washington bills. This means that government bureaucrats are or will be mining the poorly protected (by HIPAA, FERPA, etc.) health, education, social services, family, and other data of expectant mothers and siblings to determine which families need a visit from Big Brother. Although several of these bills say that families may refuse the visits without consequences, this is another data point that will be added to the family’s lifelong government data file. 

Loss of Fourth Amendment Rights

Families may unknowingly give up Fourth Amendment rights by accepting home visits from mandated reporters who collect much data on the family and whose government-determined opinions and cultural norms may be quite different from the families they visit when deciding what constitutes abuse or neglect.

Also alarming on the parental rights front is an Iowa bill that requires home visits by school officials once per quarter for homeschooling families, and if the parents refuse, the home visitors can get a court order with “probable cause” to enter the home anyway to interview and observe the child. Kiesecker asks the very relevant question:

The 4th Amendment says probable cause means when you have reason to believe that a crime has been committed and that evidence of the crime will be found in the place to be searched. Is home schooling a crime? [Emphasis in original]

Differences in Philosophy Between Parents and Home Visitors

Any parent knows that there are a myriad of views on a whole range of parenting issues from discipline to if, how and when children are evaluated and treated for social, emotional issues when the screening instruments are admitted to be far from reliable. These differences are exacerbated by cultural differences among the many ethnic groups that may be receiving home visits.

However, under American cultural and historical tradition and current jurisprudence, parents, unless there is evidence of real abuse or neglect, have the ultimate right to make decisions about the raising and upbringing of their children. These bills are trying to end that parental autonomy and turn us into a literal nanny state like Norway.

Extensive Data Collection Without Consent

Family data is the pre-eminent goal of home visiting programs. Data is the lifeblood of these programs both for public and private funders. Data elements for government include whether and how long a mother breast-feeds, her depression screening scores and other family mental health information, education status, and program participation history for all the family members.

Foundations like the Pew Charitable Trust are also big into the home visiting data mining game. They want as much data on individual family members as possible, especially on the young children targeted by the visits. Particularly important to them are the SEL data, even though it is very hard to accurately assess even for highly trained professionals like psychologists and psychiatrists:

By documenting, on a regular basis, how children are developing in key domains—including literacy, executive functioning, socio-emotional security, and fine and gross motor skills—family support providers gain critical information for improving program content, and states gain confidence in the ability of these investments to improve school readiness.

Inconsistent Training of Home Visitors

As with preschool and K-12, especially regarding SEL issues, the level of training for visitors can vary substantially. One study found that success varied with how the program was organized even when attempting to implement an established home visiting model. Additionally, the study found there was “difficulty programs faced in retaining participants.” Finally, as also discussed above, information presented may be unscientific or biased, resulting in government-directed parenting.

Poor Research Evidence for Success

This is obviously a key factor, even when listed last. To summarize, based on federal research, 87.5 percent of primary (as measured by direct observation and standardized instruments) parameters showed “no effect” of the home visiting program, and only 12.5 percent of these parameters were “positive” among all of the programs that the federal government listed as meeting “the criteria established by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for an ‘evidence-based early childhood home visiting service delivery model’ for the general population” in the child development domain. Data for other domains like child abuse is similar.

However, as with preschool programs, even though much data is invasively collected, if it does not line up with the objectives of the organization promoting the policy, that data will be ignored. Grover Whitehurst, former director of the Institute for Education Sciences that oversees all federal education research efforts, calls this selective use of data “policy-based evidence-making” instead of evidence-based policymaking. This is one of the many reasons we so vehemently objected to the passage of the Foundations for Evidence-based Policymaking Act (FEPA) that will allow such distorted and politicized data to be shared among every federal agency.

Similarly to the Pioneer Institute white paper on SEL, Wrench in the Gears warns about the ominous surveillance state the United States is becoming at the sacrifice of privacy, parental autonomy and freedom — beginning with the poor:

We live in an era where data is gold. Poor people needing services (or education) are seen as potential goldmines by predatory financiers, assuming their poverty can be “profitably managed.” We are sliding into a new economic paradigm, one where people are valued as consumers of social services and producers of “impact data.” If we don’t speak out, eventually large segments of the population will be tracked via screen and wearable technologies, generating data linked to public benefits whose value is contained and regulated through digital platforms.

Minnesota’s home visiting program is only one piece of a larger bill that could be dubbed a utopian “Baby New Deal.” It contains massive expansions of government pre-K and childcare programs with the quality rating systems imposing state early childhood standards on private and religious providers.

Some of the most terrifying words in the English language are: “We’re from the government and are here to help you.” We must stand for the rebuilding of the American family, guard our rights as parents and protect the hearts and minds of our children. Please fight on!

Karen R. Effrem, MD

Dr. Karen Effrem and her husband have three children. She is trained as a pediatrician and serves as national education issues chairman for Eagle Forum and president of Education Liberty Watch.

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