Relief Nursery a way to help neglected kids

Plans to open in October

by: Photo By Susan Matheny - Tim Rusk, executive director of Mountain Star relief nursery, spoke about the benefits of such a center in helping abused or neglected children.

   Some 40 people heard about the need for a family relief nursery in Jefferson County at a presentation last Friday at Mountain View Hospital.
   Roy Jackson, chair of the Juniper Junction Community Council, which is spearheading the effort, outlined some of the county's grim statistics.
   Jackson, who also manages the local child welfare office, noted:
   . 50 percent of all child abuse victims are under the age of 5.
   . 75 percent of the time, the abuser is the mother or father.
   . There were 62 substantiated cases of abuse in Jefferson County in 2006.
   Jefferson County has a history of high child abuse rates. Statistics show 69 child victims in 2003, 98 in 2004, 85 in 2005, 65 in 2006 and 42 in 2007.
   "A relief nursery will address risk factors in ways existing services can't. If we don't, the costs to society and kids is unbelievable as those kids grow up," Jackson said.
   Six risk factors the relief nursery can help with are physical abuse, unemployment, homelessness, parents with drug or alcohol problems, parents who have trouble with law enforcement agencies, and parents who were abused as children themselves.
   Guest speaker Tim Rusk talked about Mountain Star Relief Nursery in Bend, which he directs.
   "Our clients are families at the highest level of risk. Those who are teetering on the edge of unacceptable parenting," Rusk said.
   Relief nurseries, which take children from 6 weeks of age to 5 years, "are right there to help parents overcome those challenges," Rusk said.
   This is done through three steps. The nursery has a "therapeutic classroom" where kids are observed to find any unmet needs; there are home visits with the family; and parent education classes.
   Other family support can include a clothing closet, food bank, substance abuse support groups, and mental health services.
   "We become an extended family for them, someone who cares," Rusk observed.
   Instead of duplicating current services, a relief nursery integrates with local agencies to help families. For example, if parenting classes are already being taught, the relief families would be referred to those classes.
   A video of the Bend program noted that neglected children are at risk of becoming just like their parents. People assume everyone comes with the skills to parent their own children, but that's not true.
   "Neglected children grow up to cause the problems of tomorrow. We need to do intervention now," a spokesperson on the video warned.
   Longtime family doctor and Mountain View emergency room physician Bud Beamer spoke next, calling a relief nursery "a life jacket for kids in crisis."
   Dr. Beamer said recent studies indicate that brain development is different for neglected children who feel unimportant, whose needs are not met, and who are treated indifferently by their parents.
   Certain thinking pathways in the brain are developed through attachment with a parent or other important adult.
   "Those areas don't develop if there is no attention paid to the child," Beamer said, noting when that child grows up he or she doesn't have the ability to deal with stress, and has tendencies toward devious behavior and drug use.
   "It's an actual structural defect," he said.
   A relief nursery can intervene, educate parents, and give children someone who cares to help break the cycle of child abuse and neglect, organizers said.
   Steve Hills, Juniper Junction Community Council treasurer/secretary, said the group's goal was to have a local relief nursery up and running by Oct. 8.
   He said the group already has a matching grant of $12,000, but needs to raise $100,000 for the first year's operation expenses.
   The nonprofit Juniper Junction Community Council will be applying for grants, and welcomes tax-deductible contribution checks at P.O. Box 940, Madras, OR 97741.
   After the first year, if the relief nursery proves it is viable, ongoing funding will be available from the state, Hillis indicated.
   For more information, contact Kelly Kerbow at the Jefferson County Commission on Children and Families at 325-5040.