Morse urges support for early childhood programs

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(Host) SRS Commissioner James Morse is urging lawmakers to strengthen early education programs. Morse says these programs provide the best long-term solution to reducing the number of young people who are sent to jail.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Former Vermont Supreme Court Justice James Morse came before the Senate Government Operations Committee in his new role as SRS Commissioner on Tuesday, to discuss his short- and long-term priorities for his department. Tuesday was Morse’s second day on the job as the state’s new SRS commissioner.

There were some sobering statistics discussed at the hearing. Ninety-five percent of all Vermont inmates under the age of 25 do not have a high school diploma, and 85% of this group are in jail because of a substance abuse related crime.

Morse told the panel that there’s no doubt in his mind that the only way these numbers can be reduced is if the state makes a significant commitment to early childhood education programs:

(Morse) “My priorities for the long pull, I think, have got to be childcare. Because when I look at how we’ve gotten to where we are today, having observed our society for over 30 years as a professional, we could have done a lot 30 years ago to prevent what’s happening today. And I think we have to really get serious about young children. If they have not been well cared for growing up, they then become almost impossible to control. And then we see them as youthful offenders, and we see them in the juvenile delinquency caseload, and pretty soon they’re in corrections.”

(Kinzel) In the short term, Morse wants to reduce the amount of time that children spend in the state’s foster care system as they wait for their cases to be finalized:

(Morse) “We need to get these kids out of interminable foster care and in permanent situations a lot faster than we’re doing it. And that’s going to take a lot of effort. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s something that the federal government is requiring us to do. And if we don’t meet the guidelines we will lose (4E) money which is quite substantial. It’s one of the largest portions of the SRS federal receipts.”

(Kinzel) The Douglas administration is hoping to implement a major restructuring of the entire Human Services Agency to help make the agency more responsive to the needs of its clients. Morse says it’s uncertain at this time how SRS will be affected by these changes.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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