Assessing Community Needs to Support and Preserve Pennsylvania's Home Visiting Programs

Statement of Problem

As the evidence-base has grown showing the strong connection between a parent’s well-being and parenting practices and their child’s health and development, so too has that of home visiting programs. Home visiting programs provide voluntary, in-home services to under-resourced pregnant mothers and families of young children. Since 2010, the Health and Resources Administration (HRSA) in partnership with the Administration of Children and Families (ACF) has supported the expansion of home visiting programs into communities across the country through the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program. MIECHV allows states, territories and tribal entities to maintain and grow the evidence-based or promising programs of their choice, all of which support important aspects of child development including maternal and caregiver health, educational and economic attainment and school readiness.

In order to maintain funds, states/grantees must complete a needs assessment every four years to identify the communities most in need of services and assess current capacity of home visiting programming so they can strategically allocate resources for these community-based public health services. Needs assessments are foundational public health tools for assessing a population’s risks, strengths, opportunities and trends over time.

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) is the appointed administering agency for MIECHV funds. OCDEL has chosen to fund four evidence-based home visiting models—Early Head Start, Healthy Families America, Nurse-Family Partnership and Parents as Teachers. In 2010, OCDEL completed its first MIECHV statewide needs assessment, which reviewed concentrations of family-level risk factors within Pennsylvanian counties, including prenatal, maternal and newborn health, domestic violence, alcohol and drug violations, unemployment, poverty and child abuse. In 2014, OCDEL updated this assessment to include home visitation capacity of the four MIECHV-funded models. The 2014 needs assessment also provided county-level assessments of localized needs.


PolicyLab partnered with OCDEL to conduct a county-level needs assessment of the health of children, mothers, and families as well as the social and environmental conditions of communities across the state during the period of January 2019 to October 2020. Utilizing numerous methods of data collection, such as community surveys and stakeholder interviews, the 2020 Family Support Needs Assessment categorizes Pennsylvania’s 67 counties as having low, moderate or elevated need across six domains: maternal and child health, socioeconomic status, substance use, child safety and maltreatment, community environment and child care. Additionally, the report spotlights local service providers who are making a difference in addressing the elevated needs of their communities.

The assessment shows improvement across several maternal and child health outcomes since the last report in 2014, such as:

  • Improved rates of preterm and teen births (for nearly every county)
  • Infant mortality (60% of counties saw improvements)
  • Childhood poverty (almost half of counties saw a reduction in the percentage of children under age 5 living in poverty)

The report also sheds light on areas of need. Overall, findings emphasize that substance use, mental health, economic needs (e.g., unemployment), and intimate partner violence are among the most pronounced issues facing families across urban and rural communities in Pennsylvania. It is important to note that all data collection occurred prior to COVID-19, and the team anticipates that the pandemic will exacerbate many areas of community need. View the “Research in Motion” video below for an overview of our findings and the methods we developed to support communities with identifying local maternal and child health needs.

Read the full report and one-page summary on the Department of Human Services’ website, as well as a press release that outlines the key findings from the needs assessment. We also developed a set of topic-specific briefs with data reviews from the 2020 Pennsylvania Family Support Needs Assessment, including:

Next Steps

With the 2020 needs assessment completed, the team is embarking on an ambitious dissemination plan to share this report with communities across the state, as well as with key stakeholders and partners. Stay tuned for more blog posts and related briefs, written by the team members, which will break down the results of this assessment.  

It is our hope that early childhood stakeholders across Pennsylvania will use this report as a resource, while continuing to monitor and incorporate emerging data into programmatic and policy decisions impacting children and families at the local, county and state levels.

This project page was last updated in October 2021.

Suggested Citation

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, PolicyLab. Assessing Community Needs to Support and Preserve Pennsylvania's Home Visiting Programs [online]. Available at: [Accessed: plug in date accessed here]. 

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