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Forum editorial: Legislation would help families, children

An entirely new approach to treating troubled families and children will preserve the family unit and save North Dakota's social services budget a lot of money. Called the Family Impact Initiative, its champions include family preservation worker...

An entirely new approach to treating troubled families and children will preserve the family unit and save North Dakota's social services budget a lot of money. Called the Family Impact Initiative, its champions include family preservation workers, legislators, nonprofit agencies and child placement workers.

A bill to fund the initiative from the state Department of Human Services budget received an enthusiastic reception among legislators until last week.

The Senate passed the legislation 45-2.

It won a unanimous do-pass recommendation from the House Human Services Committee. But the House Appropriations Committee, on a party-line vote, recommended do not pass. It was a curious recommendation in light of the legislation's near-guarantee of spending less money to do a better job for families in crisis.

The initiative would change the focus of family counseling to prevention instead of remediation. That is, the program would get to families early in order to prevent problems from becoming family-destroying crises. The primary goal is to intervene before children require out-of-home placement, which can be very expensive for taxpayers.

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The program has a track record in the Pittsburgh area and in Los Angeles, with an 80 percent success rate. Success is defined as a family/extended family unit staying safely together. Out-of-home placements were reduced by 50 percent in L.A.

In North Dakota, experienced family decision teams would work with the state human services and juvenile courts to develop a coordinated, flexible delivery system that focuses on prevention. Early family involvement - both immediate and extended family - is the key, with the goal to keep a family intact.

North Dakotans know instinctively that strong families are vital to maintaining the strength of the state's social and economic fabric. The impact initiative's early intervention/family involvement mandate reflects the common sense, family-friendly culture of the state. Indeed, it's a bit of a surprise that such a sensible, cost-effective approach has not been part of social services before now.

The House Appropriations Committee might have been overworked the day it took a look at the impact initiative bill. Members might not have had time to fully understand either the social efficacy of the program or potential savings to taxpayers.

The legislation awaits full House action. Its importance to families in crisis cannot be overstated. The House should enthusiastically support the bill.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board.

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