Government Home Visits to Increase Under Obamacare

Published September 11, 2013

Thanks to Obamacare, states can receive federal grants to increase home visits by government workers, raising concerns about further government intrusion into family life.

In existing home visit programs, social workers visit the homes of children in certain “at-risk” groups, aiming to improve family health and school readiness and decrease domestic violence.

“What they do once they get there, I don’t know, but at the very minimum it’s the government wanting to step in and tell you how to raise your kids, because if the government thought you could raise your kids on your own, they wouldn’t be sending busybodies to snoop around,” said Scott Woodruff, senior counsel at the Homeschool Legal Defense Association.

The Affordable Care Act mandates giving home visit priority to “high risk populations,” meaning families that are low-income or have a history of interactions with child welfare services, child abuse, or substance abuse; families where children perform poorly in school or have developmental delays or disabilities; military families; and women who become pregnant before age 21.

“Those are target groups, but there actually isn’t any limitation on who could be visited, so a state could set up a program to visit every child, practically,” Woodruff said.

Potential Intimidation
Strictly speaking, allowing such visits is voluntary.

“The families enroll voluntarily and can discontinue services at any time for any reason without any consequence,” said Samantha Miller, a spokeswoman for the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.

But there’s no guarantee state officials and social workers won’t pressure or intimidate parents into permitting home visits, said attorney Kent Brown. He offered an illustration:

“One of these people comes up to my door and knocks and we open the door, and they say, ‘We’re here representing a federal program and we’d like to talk with you,'” Brown said. “Now, most people, seeing this, would be scared. Many of them would be intimidated, and the first impulse is to let them in the door. Now, is that voluntary?”

Incentive to Grow
The law pushes states to increase home visits, which could further pressure parents, Brown said.

“[States] have to show that they’ve made successful interventions, or if they have not, to report that. If the [Health and Human Services] secretary finds that they have not, they’re going to have to implement a corrective plan or lose the contract,” he said.

Increased participation bumps up statistics.

“Social service programs love to take parents and turn them into clients,” Woodruff said. “That makes the social workers’ statistics look really good. ‘Gee, I helped 100 people.’ If someone says, ‘No, thank you, go away,’ they can’t put that person in that category of people they helped.”

Using Vulnerable Moments
The program will likely be pushed on families in vulnerable moments—at the hospital when babies are born, at doctors’ offices, and at school, said Will Estrada, HSLDA’s director of federal relations.

“HSLDA isn’t saying there shouldn’t be home visitation programs if a family decides they want it, but … parents, not government bureaucrats, should be making the decision whether they need these services,” he said.

Some welfare programs require recipients to let social workers check in and make sure taxpayer money is being used properly.

“Be very careful about accepting government handouts,” Estrada said. “We don’t tell you not to accept it, but nothing comes free, so really look at the fine print…. Look at what you’re promising to do or agreeing to do in exchange.”

Family Security and Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” and it’s important for families to know their rights, Woodruff said. If officials do not have a warrant and there is no obvious life-threatening emergency, it’s generally best to send them away.

Social workers sometimes threaten parents with “we’ll take your kids,” Estrada said—a terrifying threat that’s typically empty.

“Where you’ve got these teams of people going out to people’s houses unannounced, how many of them are going to say, ‘Listen, I want a lawyer,’ or, ‘The Fourth Amendment protects my house, so stay away’?” Brown asked.

Image by Stephen Grebinski.