Federal funds help Elgin groups fight child abuse, neglect
Federal money is helping four Elgin organizations expand home visiting programs and fight child abuse and neglect, but officials worry the money is in danger.
A report released Thursday at a news conference organized by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois showed 30,000 kids in the state suffered abuse or neglect in 2009 -- 180 of those kids live in Elgin. And Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez said that number is probably low because of the cases that go unreported.
Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon said children who are the victims of abuse and neglect are more likely to commit crimes when they get older -- a later burden on the criminal justice system.
"If we are serious about preventing this type of crime long term, we need early intervention programs to ensure kids get a healthy start in life," McMahon said. "Quality home visiting programs are one way we can accomplish that goal."
Home visiting clients are generally seen every two weeks when pregnant women or new parents are encouraged to stay in school, to go to doctor's appointments and use successful parenting skills. Assessments are conducted regularly and support is provided until children turn 2 years old. Studies show the program helps young moms quit smoking, drinking and drugs while pregnant and keeps kids in line with developmental milestones. Young parents also have higher educational achievement with the program support.
Elgin will receive $550,000 from the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Project federal grant this year out of the $19 million Illinois received. If the program isn't cut, Illinois is in line to receive $40 million over the next five years.
If the state decides to cut its own investments in home visiting programs, it will lose eligibility for the federal money.
Sally Puleo, deputy director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, which researches what keeps kids out of crime, said Gov. Quinn's office has recommended $2.8 million in cuts to home visiting from the Department of Human Services. If that happens, $20 in federal money would be put in jeopardy for each dollar cut from the state budget.
"It would cost a lot more than the state would save," Puleo said.
The Kane County Health Department, Elgin Area School District U-46, Family Focus and Visiting Nurses Association are the local agencies receiving money to expand their already existing home visiting services, which are curriculum-based education and support programs. Elgin was chosen as one of six recipients of the funds partly because of need and partly because a framework was already in place to serve the community, Puleo said.
While contracts are still being negotiated, Paul Kuehnert, executive director of the Kane County Health Department, said all four organizations have already expanded their programs. The money is expected to help them reach 111 new families this year.
"The money we invest in the kids of this community is far less than the cost we will incur if we turn our backs on these kids and let at-risk families fend for themselves," McMahon said, urging the community to call their legislators and oppose cuts to the funding.
The federal grant program is funded through the Affordable Care Act.