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Home visits save kids from life of crime, study says

May 13, 2008 ·  By James Edwards, http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=88841

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by James Edwards

http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=88841

More funding is needed to assist the estimated 1,100 abused and neglected children who are at risk of growing up to be violent criminals, a group called Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois said Tuesday. It recommended an increase in home-visiting programs to assist 28,000 children in the state who are victims of abuse annually.

The study found that potentially some 94,000 children, newborns to 3, who are considered at risk, are currently not being served by a home-visiting program or similar alternatives – including close to 90 percent in Cook County.

“We talk about the violence on the streets. This is an annual thing. … When you talk about 28,000 children being abused and neglected every year, and you somehow want to figure that they can avoid the world of violence, that strains logic,” said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

“If today is like most days, approximately 78 Illinois children will be bruised, burned, sexually molested, or left alone, hungry, and without needed medical treatment. Some may even be killed. Increased investment in quality home visiting programs will help prevent these tragedies.”

Home-based visiting programs send trained workers into the homes of families identified as at risk through the child welfare system. Mothers are taught about health and instructional needs of infants, as well as neighborhood resources for doctors and other assistance. The visits are mainly once a week, with most happening from pregnancy until the child is two years old.

The program has seen success with groups such as the Nurse Family Partnership, a home visiting group located in 23 states, with two agencies in Illinois. Its study of their home-visit program found that by age 15 child abuse and neglect were cut in half, while later arrests of children and mothers dropped by almost 60 percent.

Tm Carpenter, director of the Fight Crime program, said such home visits reinforce the need for action by the state.

“At a time when we’re all growing increasingly concerned about stopping violent crime, I’m here to stand with the law enforcement leaders from across the state and urge our governor and legislature to invest more in programs to prevent crime early and for years to come,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter and Fight Crime urged lawmakers to follow through on two bills that would increase funding for such programs by $10 million and increase set-aside money for infants through the Early Childhood Education Block Grant. The first bill passed the House and is now in the Senate. The House and Senate versions of the latter are still in both chambers, but continue to add co-sponsors.

Dart doesn’t see the financial problems of the nation and state as a detriment to passing the bills, but he is realistic of the political pitfalls.

“It’s a different landscape than it’s been in the past. Whereas in the past, you can go down there and, with the support of A, B, and C, you can feel comfortable you can get something done. Now, nobody knows what the formula is.”

Chicago Fraternal Order of Police president Mark Donahue put it more bluntly.

“We are currently involved in rescue missions in the Asian continent [Myanmar and China]. We need the same type of rescue missions within our own borders, within the city of Chicago, within the state of Illinois. We need to rescue these children from the deplorable conditions that they, often times, find themselves in.”

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