Jim Stringfellow: Early intervention is effective


Published: Monday, November 25, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 22, 2013 at 11:28 p.m.

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell's Nov. 16 column on Florida's failure to prevent child abuse was right on the mark.

Our sheriff is one of the two outstanding law enforcement leaders we are blessed to have in our community and that truly love children and stand ready to fight for them. The other, of course, is Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones.

Both of them have been integral parts of the board leadership of Partnership for Strong Families, the not-for-profit organization formed here 10 years ago to manage the lives of 3,000 children in this area who have been abused and/or neglected.

The group uses a $32 million budget funded by the state, foundation grants and personal donations. It receives children who have fallen into the system and provides services while either leaving them in home (much preferred if the child can be assured safety) or placed in foster care and/or placed for adoption. The services rendered are mostly crisis and post-crisis; very little budget is available for prevention.

The partnership, however, holds to the belief that to strengthen communities, families and most importantly, our children, we must reach out to those in need before they become “cases.” This idea has become the motivator behind the opening of the Library Partnership, the Southwest Advocacy Group Family Resource Center and the Cone Park Library Resource Center facilities.

These centers were built with the vital aid of the County Commission, the library and the Casey Foundation. Located in proven areas of high poverty, low birthweight babies, juvenile and adult crime, and substance abuse, they are seeing success in the lives of those entering the centers seeking services and becoming more able to provide for their families and willing to give back to others in need.

This is done by connecting those in need with partnering community agencies to bring services that are presently lacking. The success of the resource centers depends on the community seeing the need for change or help.

Partnership for Strong Families sees these centers as the wave of the future for child welfare. Since the opening of the first center in 2009, the partnership has witnessed a 76 percent decrease in children in that area entering out of home care. This is a prime example of root cause prevention.

My observation over the years is that by and large early childhood prevention is not generally well understood by the local electorate and particularly many of our elected officials.

Even after 30 years of data proving its effectiveness, we see reluctance in legislative funding for prevention costs when many times that cost can be spent later.

In lieu of state support, many counties have passed their own tax initiative for funding children's services. Indeed, a group of children's advocates locally has been quietly working on such a plan for the future.

If we as a community are to effect long-term change — that is reduce poverty, crime, drug use and sales, children entering kindergarten not ready to learn, an unacceptable rate of high school dropouts and abused and neglected children — then there is only one way.

That is employing early childhood root cause prevention. Abused babies more often than not become abusing caregivers.

When will we wake up? Our children are, after all, our future.

Jim Stringfellow lives in Gainesville.

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