Congress must act to protect children in need

Published 10:44 am Monday, September 25, 2017

In my 38 years serving Berrien County as a law enforcement officer, I’ve seen too many lives ruined by crimes that could have been easily prevented — especially crimes committed by youth who struggle with mental and behavioral health issues.

The mental health crisis in this country is not just about health. It’s about public safety.

Too often, we see youth who come from abusive or stressful homes struggle with emotional and behavioral problems. This includes kids who have a Serious Emotional Disturbance, a severe mental or behavioral disorder that persists over a long period of time.

These youth are 13 times more likely to be arrested than an individual without such a disorder, and one study found that almost half had been involved with the justice system.

Thankfully, there are mental and behavioral therapies we can provide these kids to get them the help they need and prevent them from committing offenses. These supports not only makes my job easier, they cut crime and make our communities safer.

Many of these crucial services are funded by the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program, which insures kids who come from working families that make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but don’t earn enough to afford private insurance.

There are more than 82,600 children in Michigan who are enrolled in CHIP, and many rely on the program for necessary medical care, including mental health services. Nationwide, CHIP insures one out of every 10 kids.

MIChild — our CHIP program here in Michigan — also provides specific behavioral health services to kids with SEDs.

Unfortunately, CHIP is set to expire Sept. 30, and Congress must act in order to keep these programs funded.

That’s why I am urging Congress to reauthorize CHIP. We can’t prevent every offense before it happens, but providing services like these greatly reduces the likelihood that law enforcement needs to get involved.

Youth who are already involved in the juvenile justice system also benefit from CHIP’s services. Research shows that family therapy in particular helps them stay away from future crime.

For example, the Functional Family Therapy program has been shown to cut re-arrests in half. Another program, Multisystemic Therapy, has been proven to cut violent felony arrests by almost three-quarters.

Research shows us that both of these therapies are far more effective than traditional juvenile detention in preventing youth from committing future offenses.

Good policing goes far in preventing crime — but we can’t do it all on our own. That’s why we rely on CHIP to provide services that either help prevent kids from getting involved with the justice system or help reduce their likelihood to re-offend.

Rep. Upton and Sens. Stabenow and Peters should keep this in mind when CHIP reauthorization is brought to a vote this month. Our communities’ public safety depends on it.

Sheriff L. Paul Bailey has served Berrien County for 38 years, and is a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national organization that looks to reduce crime and put kids on the path to productive lives.