Unless you’ve participated in a home visiting program yourself, you probably don’t know what home visiting is or what a home visitor does. In truth, there are different types of home visiting models, and the job of a home visitor can be slightly different depending on the model and individual family needs. But, regardless of the program, home visitors help families navigate complex resource and support systems so that families are healthy, safe, educated and economically secure.
That’s a huge job, and you’d think that anyone doing that job would be paid handsomely. Not so. Like many largely women workforces, they are undervalued and underpaid. Despite the fact that 81% of DC home visitors hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, only 34% report being satisfied by their salary. Further, more than half of DC home visitors report that their overall compensation is inadequate, and a third of DC home visitors do not anticipate being able to stay in the field long-term due to the lack of fair compensation. In a recent report by the DC Home Visiting Council, a home visitor is quoted as saying, “Nobody wants to be complacent. In this field, you can get very complacent, because the pay is low, but there’s no room for growth. You can be the best at it, and you’ll still be running in place.”
Aren’t we tired of this story? The hard working Black and brown women putting their heart and soul into their work to help their neighbors, all the while not earning enough to sustain their own families? And it is Black and brown women who are home visitors locally. In fact, 84% of DC home visitors identify as women, 56% are Latinx and 27% are Black. Only 12% of DC home visitors are White. In DC, we know that home visitors aren’t just helping families navigate systems effectively, they are supporting mostly Black and brown families navigate historically racist and sexist systems, all the while being survivors of those systems themselves.
So, once again, we have a largely women of color workforce performing critical work to reduce infant mortality, improve child outcomes, reduce child abuse and neglect, and so much more; yet as a community we ask them to do very hard work for very little pay. And when those same women leave the field for opportunities with higher compensation and greater opportunity, we are left with the difficult task of recruiting for a position that we know doesn’t compensate commiserate with the level of skill required.
This issue is, of course, more complicated than just raising salaries. The funding for home visiting programs is a mix of federal and local government dollars and private philanthropic funds. Many programs operate in an environment of constant scarcity and uncertainty. That alone makes it difficult to hire, retain, and compensate staff. But, we can do better. As a community, we can commit to valuing home visiting as a critical element of a comprehensive system of care. We can demand a stronger public investment in home visiting programs that allows for higher rates of compensation for the workforce.
DC is a wealthy District with a high cost of living. Families are struggling, and unfortunately those who want to serve families are struggling too. Let’s find a way to make this right. Let’s pay home visitors what they are worth.
Learn more about DC home visitors and home visiting programs by visiting the DC Home Visiting Council website.