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Congressional inaction threatens at-risk youth

Of the Keizertimes

A statewide advocacy group mobilized a notable selection of local supporters in Salem to call on the U.S. Congress to reauthorize and expand two federal programs that deter crime through early intervention.

Keizer Police Chief John Teague, Salem Police Chief Jerry Moore, and Polk County District Attorney Aaron Felton were all called on to speak on behalf of the Maternal, Infant, Early Childhood Home Visiting Act (MIECHV) and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The trio met with Martha Brooks of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids and Patrice Altenhofen, executive director of Family Building Blocks, Monday, Oct. 2 for a press conference.

Funding for the two programs expired Sept. 30 and will need to be reauthorized by Congress or local families might lose resources viewed as critical by law enforcement and justice officials.

“As a cop, when we can teach families how to raise kids well, it makes kids safer, it makes children, families and the community more productive, and it decreases crime. I am sincerely hopeful that Congress will reappropriate funds for these programs,” Teague said.

Teague spoke specifically to programs funded through MIECHV, which pays for low-income, new parents to be screened and arrange for voluntary in-home visits after the birth of their children.

“There are some basic things these families just don’t know because they have generations of uninformed parenting,” Teague said.

Altenhofen said Family Building Blocks has about 40 home visitors and eight of them are funded through MIECHV appropriations. Statewide, MIECHV funds have directed about $20 to $30 million into Oregon for such services.

Parents who enroll in the program are screened at the hospital, sometimes even prenatally, and offered in-home visits. In-home visits can cover a wide variety of topics ranging from safety issues to something as seemingly instinctual as making eye contact.

“The tiny changes create attachments for the child and supports development,” Altenhofen said.

Parents in the program can receive visits for the first three years of the child’s life if they wish.

Funding is the primary barrier to offering the program to more eligible families, Altenhofen added.

“About a year ago, we screened as many new parents as we could for a month and discovered that we’re serving 1-in-4 families that could benefit from this program. Only about 25 percent,” Altenhofen said.

Moore spoke on the issue of CHIP funding and its role in reducing police responses to mental health crises. CHIP coverage provides specific funding for functional family therapy that has been proven to cut rearrests in half and multi-systemic therapy, which has been shown to cut violent felony arrests by 75 percent.

“These are problems that, if not treated, continue into adult life. On a daily basis, (police) contact adults with mental health issues and these programs reduce those problems,” Moore said.

Brooks said CHIP was on the agenda for the finance committee this week, but there were no clear assurances of reauthorization. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a version of MIECHV authorization that requires a state match, but the U.S. Senate has yet to bring forth its version of the bill.

Oregon receives about $100,000 in federal funding for CHIP and it serves approximately 3,000 kids.

“The critical piece is getting that funding so that we don’t lose home visitors that go to other jobs and then the families drop off,” Brooks said.

Fritz Graham, of Sen. Ron Wyden’s office, sat in on the presser. Wyden is the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, but Brooks also urged Rep. Greg Walden to prioritize the reappropriation as chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“These programs support at-risk parents who are trying to do their best, but don’t always know how to support their kids so that they can succeed. The research is on our side and shows the profound impacts these programs have,” said Felton.