It’s every police officer’s worst nightmare: a 911 call that leads to a home where a child has been abused or neglected. It happens every day, and often at the hands of young, inexperienced parents who simply aren’t prepared for the stressful situations that arise with young children. In 2012 there were more than 23,000 confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect in North Carolina alone.
Fortunately, we have a major initiative to reduce these problems. Unfortunately, the federal funding that supports it may disappear in April unless Congress takes prompt action.
Police chiefs like me are alarmed, and we are urging Congress to renew funding for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program. This voluntary high-quality program has proven effective in saving children’s lives, reducing domestic violence and keeping mothers and daughters out of jail.
Begun in 2010, the program provides money to implement voluntary home visits for at-risk expectant and new mothers. These programs send nurses or other trained mentors into the women’s homes to help them understand their children’s emotional needs, how to make their homes safe for children and how to respond appropriately to stressful parenting situations. They also help the mothers stay in school and then get jobs.
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What the programs can also do is steer the young moms and their daughters away from the criminal justice system. That’s the headline from a report released in Charlotte last month by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national organization of 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors, of which I am a member. This outcome is especially important given the dramatic six-fold increase of women in prison over the past three decades. There are now more than 200,000 women incarcerated in state prisons in the U.S., including 2,700 women in North Carolina. Nationwide, almost two-thirds of women in state prisons are mothers.
Among the report’s major findings:
▪ A randomized controlled trial of a Nurse Family Partnership home-visiting program in Elmira, New York, found that the program helped reduce crime and lower incarceration. More than 15 years after the program began, high-risk mothers who did not receive home visits had more than 3 times as many crime convictions as those who did participate. And by the time they were 19, daughters who were in the control group who had not participated in the programs had 9 times more convictions than those who did.
▪ Data collected in Cincinnati showed that mortality rates for infants whose mothers were involved in high-quality home visiting programs were 60 percent lower than for a comparison group.
▪ An independent study in Washington State found that the NFP program produced net savings of over $17,000 for every family served based on NFP’s impact on improved children’s health, reductions in abuse and neglect, increased readiness for school and reductions in future crime.
NFP programs, which are among the highest-rated home visiting programs in the country, have grown in North Carolina in recent years. Begun in Guilford County, the NFP now serves 16 counties in North Carolina.
I strongly support these programs based on years of experience in law enforcement and too many memories of what happens when children and families are in trouble. That is why I have joined my law enforcement colleagues in North Carolina and nationwide in calling on Congress to renew the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program. It’s one of the smartest moves we can make for saving taxpayer dollars and preparing young parents and children for more productive lives.
Samuel Page is sheriff of Rockingham County.