- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 14

Boosting Dad Quotient could help reduce infant mortality

There is no question about it: If a dad is involved with his kids, those kids generally do better in life. But can boosting the Dad Quotient also reduce the risk of infant mortality? The Milwaukee Health Department is betting that it can. We like the new program called Direct Assistance for Dads, one of four pilot projects focused on supporting black men to help reduce the city’s appallingly high rates of infant mortality.

Babies are dying needlessly in Milwaukee. In some neighborhoods, they die during their first year of life at rates approximating those in Third World countries. Black babies are nearly three times more likely to die than white babies. For the fourth year in a row, the three-year rolling average for black infant deaths rose in the latest year surveyed. The worst problems are concentrated in a few ZIP codes battered, no surprise, by poverty and crime.

The role of fathers in birth outcomes has been “sadly and inappropriately” dismissed, Nicole Angresano, vice president of community impact for United Way of Greater Milwaukee, told the Journal Sentinel’s Sarah Maslin.

The new fatherhood program helps coach prospective dads in a variety of ways. The program, the first of its kind in Wisconsin, is working with 28 fathers this fall on such basics as how to open a bank account and look for work. Numerous studies show that more involvement by fathers is a plus.

“Public health efforts, especially those employing new or innovative strategies, sometimes require a leap of faith,” Angresano said. “But what’s the alternative? Previous efforts to reduce infant mortality haven’t worked. We cannot continue to focus only on the health care of the expectant mother.”

There is little doubt that poverty and extreme levels of black male incarceration feed this problem. As reported in the 2010 U.S. Census, Milwaukee had the highest rate of black poverty of any large metropolitan area in the nation. There is a lack of affordable housing and public transportation in the city and an extremely low percentage of black married families, Maslin reports.

It’s a recipe for trouble, which is exactly what we have in too many inner city neighborhoods.

The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, run by Princeton and Columbia universities, found that while most unmarried fathers provide financial help to the mother during pregnancy and have contact soon after birth, by the five-year mark, only about a third were actually living with the mother and child, Maslin reports.

There is hope that by uniting under the Milwaukee Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families program, the various initiatives aimed at strengthening the role of dads in their kids’ lives can have more of an impact. Lifecourse is a statewide program aimed at healthy birth outcomes that is funding a variety of efforts in Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha and Beloit.

We think Geoffrey Swain, chief medical officer for the Milwaukee Health Department, put it best: “Infant mortality is a wicked problem, with dozens of factors and no easy solution,” he told Maslin. “Am I excited? Yes. Do I think it has potential? Yes. Will it work? We’ll see.”

But we think there is a lot of good that can come for the community - and most of all for the kids - if dads not only hang around but remain active in their children’s lives. The Health Department’s new program strikes us as a smart way to boost the Dad Quotient.

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The Journal Times, Oct. 15

We must all speak up to end team hazing

If you were on a high school sports team, you probably went through some kind of initiation ritual. It probably involved some kind of temporary embarrassment, like being given a bad hairdo or being made to wear an ugly shirt. The silly, harmless variety of “you’re one of us now” bonding.

But the moment such rituals involve an act of violence, especially one perpetrated by a group on an individual, initiation has given way to hazing, and it must be treated as the criminal act it is. It has allegedly done so in horrifying fashion in Sayreville, New Jersey.

Seven players on the War Memorial High School varsity football team, arrested on Friday and Saturday, were charged as juveniles with a list of serious offenses stemming from four separate hazing episodes against four teenagers, the New York Times reported Sunday. Three face charges including aggravated sexual assault - a violent crime that alone can carry up to a 20-year prison term in the adult system - for “an act of sexual penetration,” authorities said. Four others face a lesser top charge of aggravated assault.

Freshman players who witnessed or heard about the assaults described upperclassmen grabbing younger players and groping them; in at least one instance, they shut out the lights and pinned a younger student down, laughing and goading one another into assaulting him, the Times reported.

One 14-year-old, who said he had described the scene to the police but did not want to give his name for fear of reprisals, said he was alarmed but was told by junior varsity players that the same thing had been done to them by upperclassmen when they were freshmen.

“They would pick someone,” he said. “It’s been going on for a long time.”

Others, too, said the younger players had tried to laugh it off.

“I thought it was just normal stuff, just locker room antics,” said Christian Brito, 14, who said that one of the victims had described one of his assaults in late September, the Times reported.

Adults know the distinction between “locker room antics” of the harmless variety and a violent sexual assault. As with bullying, it’s up to adults - parents and guardians, specifically - to help educators stamp out hazing.

Talk to your kids. Make sure they’re talking to you, keeping the line of communication open. And if they see something, they must say something. Rituals that involve attacking new members should have no place on any team. You shouldn’t have to be assaulted by teammates to get a varsity letter.

At a vigil on Sunday in Sayreville, over 300 people crowded around a small blue tent. Maureen Jenkins, the organizer of the vigil, lit four candles, one for each of the Sayreville victims, and a fifth for all other victims of sexual assault, the Times reported.

“I want to praise the young men who did speak up,” she said into a microphone, her voice cracking. “It takes a lot of guts and courage.”

Guts and courage are how wrongs are made right. That’s the lesson we must continue to teach our children, and each other.

___

Leader-Telegram, Oct. 12

On Nov. 4, put road funds in lock box

Government spending at the federal level is fairly easy to understand.

Congress fiddles around the entire year and then passes continuing resolutions with little regard for how much tax revenue is being collected, and then it borrows the difference. That’s how we have compiled a national debt inching toward $18 trillion and unfunded liabilities that now total nearly $1 million per taxpayer, according to usdebtclock.org.

Fortunately, our state lawmakers aren’t quite so blatant in their struggle to balance the state budget, which it must do by law.

That doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t have a few tricks up their sleeves to balance the budget on paper without making spending and revenues actually line up.

One of those time-honored tricks is to “borrow” money from the state transportation fund, made up mostly by the $75 annual per-vehicle registration fee and the state gasoline tax of 30.9 cents a gallon.

There’s a proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot to put a stop to this escape valve for lawmakers, and voters should check a resounding “Yes” on the ballot. This would guarantee that all the money charged to motorists stays in the transportation fund and is not diverted for other uses.

Here’s how the bait and switch works, and why it must stop. For many years under both Democratic and Republican leadership, gas tax and vehicle registration money has been used to pay other state bills, and then the Legislature borrows money for road projects. By law, the state can’t borrow money for general operations, but it can bond for capital projects such as roads and bridges. By shifting the money, it enables them to balance the budget on paper, but it costs us all more in the long run.

According to the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, from 2002 to 2011, this transfer from the transportation fund to the general fund has totaled more than $1.4 billion.

Ending this maneuver is long overdue. Most other states already have similar language in their constitutions, and Maryland voters also will decide on Nov. 4 whether to put similar language in their constitution.

“It puts trust back in the trust fund,” said Dan Fedderly of Boyceville, executive director of the Wisconsin County Highway Association. “It assures the public that what they are paying for is being spent on what they think it will be spent on.”

There doesn’t appear to be much opposition to this proposal. It easily passed both houses of the Legislature in consecutive sessions with bipartisan support, an almost unheard of concept these days. Also, voters in 54 counties previously backed advisory referendums on the same question by more than 70 percent.

A bigger issue is how we can continue to have smooth roads and otherwise improve our transportation system as gas tax revenues stagnate as cars become more fuel efficient. That’s a thorny issue we can’t continue to ignore, but for now we can and should stop the raids on transportation revenues.

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