Letter: Funds cut to proven programs

It is with sadness for the families and disappointment for our own kids that as we learned of the shootings in Connecticut, cuts of $2.8 million were being announced by the Jindal administration, ending a mental health program cited by the New York Times, ABC’s “20/20” and noted in numerous journals, textbooks and national professional meetings as being a role model for other states.

The Advocate brought news Dec. 14 that ECSS (the Early Childhood Support and Services Infant Mental Health Program) had lost its funding. Since 2002, this Louisiana community-based, family-focused program has served over 3,000 TPANF-eligible families with children under age six. It had been funded through Temporary Assistance to Needy Family block grants and state general funds supporting clinical services. That money is gone.

What were we getting for it? ECSS is evidence-based programming. Statistically ECSS showed that in the first three months of infant mental health treatment, mental health symptoms decreased from very high (greater than the 97th percentile) to non-clinical (not requiring treatment). ECSS was also associated with significant decreases in parenting stress. In other words, ECSS reduced the overuse of health care services. There were other benefits as well.

Escalating costs, reduced revenues and limited options for making budget cuts have been with us seemingly forever. Given them, how do we continue to build a better Louisiana?

One answer we often hear is, “Create a difference down the road.” If we change things today for our youngest children, we can improve graduation rates, reduce incarceration rates and improve our state ranking in so many areas. This of course requires an investment now for which we would not see the results for years. It also requires faith.

Recently Karen Ponder told attendees of an Academic Distinction Fund event that in the ’90s North Carolina committed to improve its sad national ranking. Changes proposed to improve outcomes for the state’s children required an increased investment in state funding. Today North Carolina ranks in the top 20 in many critical measurements.

What happens now? In the absence of access to evidence-based therapies, prescription rates for powerful psychotropic medications, which often cost as much as $1,000 per month per preschool child, will increase dramatically. Children with preschool mental health conditions will be at a higher risk of later involvement in the juvenile justice system. Additionally, if untreated in preschool years, these children will arrive at school unprepared to learn, cognitively or emotionally, and will require significant special education services.

ECSS served children in only 12 Louisiana parishes. There were already extensive waiting lists as unserved parishes desperately requested them. Louisiana’s children required more funding if we hoped to impact our kids’ lives down the road, not less, and not none.

Ken Hinrichs, executive director

Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families

Baton Rouge