JIM STRINGFELLOW: Hampton's lessons for Alachua County


Published: Sunday, January 6, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 6, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

In my Dec. 2 Speaking Out I described the history of Hampton, Va.'s, Healthy Families Partnership program; an early childhood development initiative that is changing Hampton's quality of life. Now I want to look at some of the results of their program and suggest an action plan for our community.

So far Hampton's outcomes are mainly centered around children. As time goes by and original program participants enter young adulthood, additional quality of life benchmarks and measurements will be added.

In a state with increasing instances of neglect and child abuse, Hampton has reduced its rates in this area by 27 percent. If we relate that to our area where we presently supervise 1,800 children who have been neglected and abused it might be assumed that we would have 486 fewer children in the system here.

Hampton has decreased its infant mortality rate by 25 percent, now twice better than the state of Virginia.

Some 98 percent of all two-year-olds in the program have been immunized vs. 42 percent for the state. Additionally, every child in Healthy Start has a personal physician, saving hospitals millions.

Healthy Start graduates are better prepared for kindergarten in five benchmarked areas. And 85 percent of these kids were adjudged ready to learn, in spite of the fact that many came from stressed and overburdened families.

Of parents engaged in parenting classes, 85 percent graduated.

The Hampton teen birth rate has dropped 24 percent, and second births to teen age mothers is now at zero percent vs. 30 percent for the state of Virginia and also for Florida.

The economic turnaround of the Hampton area has been phenomenal. Of course its Healthy Families initiative cannot be held totally responsible. However, Hampton City officials were quick to assert that overcoming poor parenting has led to a significantly better work force.

The quality of life in the Hampton area has improved to the degree that it is now touted by the Chamber of Commerce and city economic development officials as inducement for industry recruitment.

As most of us know, our United Way has brought us a long way toward a community goal of every child, regardless of birth circumstances, having a chance to become a successful citizen. The United Way Success By Six initiative this year will contribute $650,000 into quality early childhood preventive development programs.

But existing funding, even with the United Way's leadership, still will not get this job done. If we are going to be able to significantly improve this community's quality of life we must break the terrible cycle of ignorant, neglectful, abusive parents bringing into this world and half-raising children who statistics show often grow up to become the same regrettable parents that they experienced.

We have a great community here with a world of advantages, but we have a dismal record of pulling together on vital issues. A significant problem is our dual form of local governments which by its very structure leads to turf guarding, duplication and inefficiency in delivery of services, lack of citizen inclusiveness and an impaired ability to visualize and plan together for the whole good. But this quality of life issue is far too important for our community's future to allow that factor to stop or slow what we know is the right thing to do.

Those of us in the business of caring for abused and neglected children - those in the juvenile justice system, the court system, the school system, or our police and sheriff operations - all will tell you that things are getting worse, not better, in spite of dozens of innovative intervention programs (and millions of taxpayer dollars) designed to improve various symptoms. This Band Aid approach to solving social deterioration is both wasteful and futile. Root cause prevention is our only answer.

In a previous Speaking Out I suggested that we form an Alachua County Community Council modeled after the highly successful 32-year-old Jacksonville Community Council. The JCCI, using a high citizen participation form of organization, studies key vital community issues each year and eventually presents its recommendation to the Jacksonville City Council for action. Its recommendations have averaged 85 percent approval over 32 years. The council also publish an 80-page Quality Of Life Indicator study of the Jacksonville area, comparing year-to-year trends. We need such a report here badly.

This organization, melding all the many stakeholders in our very diverse community, could provide the leadership we need to create a vision and action on vital issues such as this one.

Jim Stringfellow chairs Partnership for Strong Families, the community based state funded agency that oversees the protection and management of abused and neglected children in the north central Florida area.

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