Law officers back home-visit funding
SALEM — Marion County District Attorney Walt Beglau said it's not uncommon to see three generations of a family who have been teetering on the edge of crime together in a courtroom.
That is why Beglau and other law-enforcement officials support home visits for families deemed at risk. Beglau, Salem Police Chief Jerry Moore and Keizer Police Chief John Teague came together Wednesday to urge Congress to renew funding for those home visits.
"We're here today because we'd like Congress to renew one of our nation's best investments," Moore said.
Home visits give guidance to at-risk parents and help them make their homes safer for children, the officials said.
"As they learn to parent well, they also become more-productive citizens," Teague said.
Oregon has received $27 million for the home visits during the past five years, according to Martha Brooks, state director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.
Nationally, the federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program costs $400 million, Brooks said. That money disappears if Congress doesn't renew the program by March 31, 2015.
Salem's Family Building Blocks is among the Oregon organizations that conduct the voluntary home visits. Tax dollars pay about 60 percent of the costs, with private donations to Family Building Blocks making up the rest.
For every family eligible for home visits through the nonprofit, there are three more interested families they are unable to serve, said home visitor Megan Gapp of Family Building Blocks.
Gapp said the parents she visits experience such challenges as poverty, lack of transportation and unemployment. Many were abused as children. The parents tell her they want to provide a different childhood for their own kids, but they don't know how.
The hourly home visits occur weekly from the time a child is in the womb or born until the child is a toddler.
Gapp said she has been visiting one teen mother since she was pregnant. When the child was born, the mother didn't hold him often or make eye contact. She began doing those things once Gapp explained their importance.
That nurturing wasn't part of the mother's own childhood, who had been abused herself and was separated from her parents, Gapp said.
Beglau said he sees home visits as an antidote to generational crime.
"No mother wants to go to prison, and we don't want to see her shackled in the courtroom," he said.
In Oregon, about 1,300 women are in state prisons and more than 7,000 are on probation or parole, according to a study from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. Nationally, almost two-thirds of women in state prisons are mothers and 4 percent of women were pregnant when they entered prison.