In the past, we’ve highlighted the great work of Shelby County’s Office on Early Childhood and Youth (OECY) on our website and in our Big Ideas publication. In a post earlier this year, we described OECY’s innovative Child Impact Statement Report System (CISRS), a web based tool that helps users generate child impact statements, which in turn enables policy decisions to be made more easily with child well-being in mind. The CISRS is an important tool because it allows policymakers and staff to consider the intricate details of how new initiatives, resolutions and ordinances and significant budget items impact children and youth, in areas including environmental and public safety, health, family income, and education.

Today, we have less promising news to share. Although the CISRS has been a valuable tool for policymakers in Shelby County, much work remains to be done and OECY stands ready to do it. Yet despite the national press reporting on outcomes including high teen pregnancy and infant mortality rates in Memphis, TN, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners voted 8-3 on Monday, June 6th, to defund OECY.

To give you a better sense of the devastating impact of this vote, it might be helpful to share a few examples of the work that OECY does. The Office serves a pivotal role as the focal point for all of the Administration’s initiatives related to children and youth in Shelby County government, as well as youth-serving programs within the community. This allows for greater collaboration between and among public and private programs and greater accountability for programs.

As an example, the state of Tennessee chose Shelby County to be the recipient of a $4.2 million grant from the U. S. Department of Health & Human Services. This multi-year grant will provide pre-natal care for pregnant teens at Memphis City Schools, ensuring that babies are born healthy, stay healthy and are enrolled in quality early childhood programs. The grant will also provide a client tracking system that will be expandable to all organizations affiliated with Shelby County. This funding will be shared by public and private partner organizations.

In addition, because of the existence of the Office, the state of Tennessee chose Shelby County as the recipient of $1,674,320.00 to provide oversight and accountability for community providers of “Centering Pregnancy” pre-natal care and “Community Voice”, a grassroots infant mortality reduction outreach program, specifically serving African-American neighborhoods. This multi-year funding will also be shared by public and private partner organizations.

These are examples of how the Office has leveraged a very small budget of $396,795 in fiscal year 2011 to attract millions of state and federal dollars. This funding – and the other grants listed below – would not have been available to the community without the coordination of the OECY. They secured funding that benefits evidence-based programs that serve the community.

The Office holds regular events to educate the community on the leading factors related to infant mortality, teen pregnancy – going door-to-door in the areas with the highest infant mortality rates to talk to the mothers, grandmothers, fathers and others who need to know first-hand how to ensure their children are born healthy and stay healthy. The Office also operates the West Tennessee Child Passenger Safety Center, which promotes the use of child passenger safety seats, saving lives by ensuring that Child Passenger Safety (CPS) seats are properly installed in vehicles as required by law.

All of these funds and years of community partnership building are in jeopardy if OEYC is defunded. The defunding comes on the heels of the State of Tennessee legislature defunding the State Governor’s Office of Children’s Care and Coordination as of June 30, 2011. Help us support OEYC and ensure that it remains funded and can continue to work on behalf of children, youth and families in Shelby County for years to come. Visit OECY on facebook to voice your support for the Office.