This report summarizes findings from a rigorous, large-scale, longitudinal evaluation that examined the impact of Healthy Families Illinois on parent and child outcomes.

Healthy Families Illinois (HFI) is a voluntary home visiting program, funded by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), and implemented by over 50 community agencies across the state.  Modeled after the Healthy Families America initiative, HFI is designed to strengthen family functioning and improve parent-child interaction through voluntary, intensive home visiting to families at risk for problems in parenting, including child abuse and neglect.

The program serves expectant and new parents, with the goal of improving parent-child interactions, including preventing child abuse and neglect and promoting optimal child development.  HFI provides intensive home visitation services that are culturally relevant, promote connections with community resources, and provide support and education related to positive parenting practices.  HFI provides extensive training to its home visiting staff through a training institute provided by the Ounce of Prevention Fund.

The HFI initiative represents a unique collaborative effort between IDHS and numerous other agencies committed to improving outcomes for Illinois children, including: Voices for Illinois Children, Ounce of Prevention Fund, Prevent Child Abuse Illinois, Northern Illinois University, and over 50 community agencies around the state.

The HFI program evaluation, conducted by Northern Illinois University, is noteworthy in several respects.  Evaluation data were collected from 40 HFI sites across Illinois, allowing for an evaluation of the state-wide system as a whole.  Thus the evaluation findings are not limited to outcomes associated with only one or two selected sites.  The evaluation included comparison families who were equivalent in motivation and risk to the families served in the HFI program.  The comparison group design provided opportunity for a stringent test of whether HFI services were associated with improved outcomes for families over and above all other usual services. Also, the use of multiple methods of assessment (i.e., observational data, self-reported information) and the involvement of an independent evaluator reduced potential sources of bias in the information from which conclusions regarding the program's efficacy were drawn.

Participants in the HFI state-wide program evaluation were geographically, as well as racially/ethnically, diverse.  Parents were predominantly young mothers who were parenting their first child.  Approximately half the parents were single and half were married/cohabitating. With regard to educational attainment, participants on average had achieved less than a high school diploma.

"I feel I am doing the best that I can because of the support and feedback I get from this program." - quote from an HFI parent

Key findings from the evaluation indicate that HFI services are associated with promotion of optimal parent-child interactions in the first months of life.  That is, caregivers receiving HFI services exhibited significant improvement in their ability to promote their children's social, emotional, and cognitive growth during the first six months of life.

As expected, at one year, HFI parents, relative to parents receiving all other usual services, displayed greater acceptance and tolerance of their growing children's challenging behaviors.

At two years, families receiving HFI services, compared to those receiving all other usual services, offered their children a wider array of materials to stimulate intellectual development.

In addition, findings from this evalation indicate that HFI programs are successful in engaging parents with high risk for problems in parenting.  Importantly, parents with the highest risk for problems in parenting actually exhibited the greatest improvements during the first two years of life.  These improvements included lower levels of distress, fewer rigid parenting beliefs, and greater ego strength.

These outcomes are congruent with HFI's goals of improving parent-child interactions, including preventing child abuse and neglect and promoting optimal child development.

Healthy Families Illinois: Key Findings

At six months:

  • Parent-child interactions improved significantly across time in families receiving HFI services.  No such improvements were noted in families receiving all other usual services.
  • Parents involved in HFI services demonstrated significantly greater improvements in their growth fostering skills during their infant's first six months of life relative to comparison parents, who received all other usual services.

At one year:

  • Parents receiving HFI services, relative to parents receiving all other usual services, displayed higher levels of acceptance of challenging child behaviors.

At two years:

  • Families receiving HFI services, compared to those receiving all other usual services, offered their children with a wider array of materials to stimulate their cognitive development.
  • Parents with highest risk for problems in parenting showed the greatest improvements, including lower levels of distress, fewer rigid beliefs, fewer problems with others and greater ego strength.