Minnesota's opportunity gap is the worst in the nation. Quality home visiting programs and early education are proven to be among the best ways to support strong early development.

As the Senate Majority Leader, Sen. Paul Gazelka has a unique role to play in eliminating the opportunity gap for families and their children. He should join Rep. Ron Kresha in leading targeted home visiting and early learning scholarships, which are proven methods to close the opportunity gap for our community's most vulnerable children.

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Minnesota's state budget surplus is over $1.6 billion; we must invest in life-changing resources for our most vulnerable children. With the right support, we can eliminate the opportunity gap for families and their children before they enter kindergarten.

The Healthy Families Minnesota Family Center's Home Visiting Program serves families in three Cass County districts - Pine River-Backus, Pillager and Northland. Through the program, we strengthen families to build strong communities.

For example, a mom and a dad were experiencing a lot of arguing and stress over whether you can spoil babies. Dad thought holding them too much would spoil them, so they spent a lot of time in their cribs getting only their basic needs met. After Dad moved to a different state, Mom started bringing babies out to the living room to explore.

The home visitor helped create a space at home for Mom and her babies to bond and secure a strong attachment. Her children are now meeting important development benchmarks. The home visitor continues to support Mom as she builds her parenting skills over time.

A stimulating and safe environment during early development is key to unlocking the incredible potential of every child's mind and provides the children with a solid foundation to build upon. High quality home visiting programs are proven to be one of the best ways to support strong early development because they promote long-term self-sufficiency by strengthening or restoring the critical family and social structure for parents and children.

Leslie Bouchonville and Betty Doss are both Cass County family center executive directors who manage the Healthy Families Minnesota-Family Center Home Visiting Program.