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Editorial: Council prepares key recommendations to enhance services for at-risk children

The report was two years in the making, but well worth the effort. With the support of Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and at the direction of the County Legislature, the Erie County Community Coordinating Council on Children and Families has produced a series of valuable recommendations meant to strengthen services, especially as they apply to neglected or abused children.

If the county and other entities adopt the recommendations issued last week by the volunteer council, they will allow for shared information by agencies, encourage collaborations of service providers, develop community assets and use existing data to create more insightful studies of at-risk populations.

In addition, the committee drew up the Erie County Children’s Bill of Rights, which it encouraged all primary service providers to adopt. Its provisions include what ought to be – but are tragically not always – staples of childhood: clean water and a balanced, healthy diet of fresh food; a life free from neglect and violence; a safe home in a secure community, free from environmental contamination.

The committee has no authority beyond the bully pulpit that comes with its existence, but member Robert M. Bennett says it will use that clout to encourage the county and other entities to adopt its recommendations. Bennett, the chancellor emeritus of the State Board of Regents, knows about serving children and has long been a champion of one of this committee’s primary goals: eliminating the information and service “silos” that isolate critical agencies from one another, resulting in incomplete information and duplication of effort.

It is no surprise, then, that the first of the committee’s recommendations is for primary providers of education, health care and government services to create a “universal release for the coordinated care of children and families.” The point would be to allow providers to readily share important information with each other. There could be privacy hurdles to overcome in creating such a release, but its usefulness would be dramatic. It’s an important goal.

The most direct public expense the committee is recommending is for the county and primary health care providers to collaborate in hiring a full-time pediatrician with a specialty in dealing with child abuse. That physician would work in area hospitals with police, Child Protective Services and other service providers.

That would be critically important after the fact of child abuse, and well worth pursuing. But the committee is also looking to prevent these and other problems through strategies that include eliminating the waiting list for parental education programs, encouraging youth development programs and improved delivery of services to those who need them.

The need for such an approach may be no more urgent here than in any other county, but the need has been made especially plain here in recent years, with children murdered as Child Protective Services failed to protect them. The county, with Poloncarz taking the lead, has worked successfully to improve the performance of CPS, but children are still at risk in this county and in Buffalo, one of the country’s poorest cities.

The committee has done important work, and its members are wise to plan on monitoring what the county and other entities do to adopt the report’s recommendations. Too often, reports such as these gather dust on the shelves of bureaucracies. If that happens with this one, many children will suffer and some will die. It doesn’t need to happen.

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