The term "home visit" as related to childcare programs has several interpretations. A home visit may occur when a teacher or caregiver visits the home of an enrolled child to observe that child and talk to the parents or guardians in the home environment. A visit also may be indicated if a child is absent for several days due to sickness or other reasons, or to provide services to the family. The term "home visit" may also mean a visit by a resource person or monitoring personnel to the home of a family childcare provider. This article focuses on the visit by a teacher or caregiver to the home of an enrolled child.
This visit allows the caregiver to better understand the child's unique strengths and needs, and provides an opportunity for parents and staff to discuss childcare and early education issues. Some parents may be intimidated or uncomfortable talking with staff in the childcare setting, so these informal gatherings in the home may empower parents and facilitate more discussion. The Head Start and Early Head Start programs, as well as other childcare programs, require that staff visit each child's home a specified number of times during the program year. If your program conducts visits to children's homes, here are suggestions to help keep these visits on-target and productive:
Home visits should be scheduled. Visits should be scheduled during a time with minimal disruptions. When you telephone the parent or guardian to schedule a day and time, be sure he or she understands that you wish to talk to them and that the child should be present. Schedule a time that is convenient for the family.
When scheduling your visit, be clear about the purpose and state approximately how long it will last. If the family is expected to have specific documents at hand, or needs to make other preparations for the visit, discuss this when you schedule the visit.
Setting the scene. When you arrive at the child's home, be aware that the child may want to be the center of attention. This is a special visit for him or her! Spend time interacting with the child, and also encourage the parents or other family members to interact. This provides an opportunity to observe the child's developmental levels and skills in a comfortable and non threatening environment. Begin your discussions with the parent after you and the parent are comfortably seated, preferably side-by-side. In most situations, making eye contact is an important part of the communication process. However, this is not true in some cultures and the person may avoid eye contact.
An effective way to begin the visit is to acknowledge progress you have seen in the child. If you have had earlier visits or conferences with the parents, you may review goals or plans established previously and discuss positive changes, no matter how small, as well as continuing plans for progress. Ask the parents what they would find helpful from today's visit. If the needs expressed are not within the scope of your program's goals, clarify your role and recommend other appropriate resources.
Home sweet home. When visiting, remember that this is a family's home. Most of the time, your activities may be conducted in areas of the home that the family considers "public spaces," such as a living room or family room. If the child invites you into a more private area of the home, e.g., he wants to show you his room, and you have not been invited to do so by the parent, you might respond, "I would like to see your room. If it is okay with Mommy maybe you could show me the next time I come to visit." Such a response expresses your respect for the family's privacy, while letting the child know you are interested in what he has to show you. By always respecting the privacy and unique characteristics of the family and their home, you work toward building a trusting relationship which benefits the child, his family and your program.
Supervision without distraction. Both small and serious injuries can occur to young children when adults are even momentarily distracted. While talking with the parent, you may suggest that the child and/or siblings participate in a quiet activity that keeps children safely within sight.
Plan your visit. The comfortable relationship that often develops between caregivers and parents when home visits are conducted over an extended period of time makes it easy for conversation to stray from the intended goal of the visit. An "action plan" for what needs to be included in the visit will be helpful to refocus discussions. If you need specific forms or other materials, have them readily available along with extra forms, pens, and pencils. Being organized can allow time to be used wisely and the goals of the visit to be met.
From time to time, evaluate your visits. Does the content of your visit frequently deviate from your plan because the family has other pressing issues? What can you change in your strategies to help you gather the information you need and to deliver your program's message or curriculum with greater impact?
Reaching families through home visits can be an effective way to develop services which meet the needs of individual children and their families and to deliver services which support high-quality childcare.
Kathleen Ford, RNC, Early Childhood Nurse Consultant
Pima County Health Department Public Health Nursing
Sibieanne Smith, C.D.A., Family Childcare Provider
Past President, Southern Arizona Family Child Care Association
- Safety is always a concern, whether you are visiting a family's home, going to work, or running errands. Here are some general suggestions for safety:
- Make sure your vehicle is in good working order and that you have adequate gasoline. Be sure you have air in your spare tire, and that all pieces of your jack are present. Know how to change a flat tire.
- Carefully map a route to your destination and make sure someone else knows your destination route and anticipated arrival/return time. Lock your car doors while traveling and "buckle-up!" If possible, carry a fully-charged cellular phone along with the family's phone number and emergency phone numbers.
- When you arrive at your destination, lock items of value out of sight, such as in the trunk of the vehicle. Purses, backpacks, or other unnecessary items should not be taken into the home. These bags often contain items which may be hazardous in small hands, for example, medications, cosmetics, batteries from calculators, coins, and personal defense items such as pepper-based sprays, or knives. Never a carry a gun or weapon into a home where there are children!
- Your personal safety should not be ignored. Ask your local law enforcement authorities about speakers or available literature to help you learn more about staying safe while conducting home visits in unfamiliar neighborhoods or high-crime areas.