- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 6, 2016

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 4

In their concern for protecting the unborn, abortion-reform advocates should be equally mindful of the fate of children born to women and families who may not be financially, physically or emotionally able to care for them. It is easy to criticize women and men who produce babies they won’t be able to parent, but the babies themselves are not to blame.

Solutions must be found to ensure their future well-being. Increased reliance on abortion absolutely is not the answer. Improved foster-care and adoption support is.

Children born to parents who aren’t ready to be parents often end up in foster care, which all involved hope is a step toward a permanent adoptive home. But foster care systems across the country are notoriously stressed. Child-protection workers are burdened by large caseloads and a shortage of adequately trained caretakers who can provide homes for children.

The number of children in foster care in Missouri was 11,384 in 2014, compared to 13,451 this year. Two years ago, 1,291 children were adopted out of the state foster care and adoption system. The figure for the number of adoptions this year is not available. But the trend does not bode well.

If abortions are restricted across the country - a distinct possibility, given the Nov. 8 election result - the numbers of children entering foster care can only grow. Without huge infusions of money, states would be unable to serve the needy children who have no other safety net to rely on.

The foster care population is expanding nationwide, with 427,910 children in September 2015, compared to 401,213 two years earlier. Georgia, Arizona, Florida, Indiana and Minnesota accounted for nearly two-thirds of the recent increase in the surging population.

Authorities blame the increase on problems such as parental drug abuse, tougher procedures for investigating alleged child abuse and cutbacks in services to vulnerable families. But unplanned pregnancies also play an underlying role in the parenting picture.

While there are no data showing what would happen if abortion were outlawed, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study shows 664,435 abortions were reported in 2013, the last year for which figures are available. If a fraction of those unborn children were added to state foster care systems, the support system could be thrown into crisis.

Studies show that about 6 million women in the U.S. get pregnant annually, and that about 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned. A report by the Shriver institute of the National Institutes of Health says about 43 percent of unplanned pregnancies end in abortion.

The future for children who spend time in foster care is bleak. They are less likely to complete high school or find well-paying jobs. They’re more likely to have developmental delays and experience homelessness or incarceration.

The nation should prepare for big social challenges ahead if women lose their right to reproductive choice.

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Columbia Daily Tribune, Dec. 2

Mun Choi is taking a tour of his new realm as incoming president of the University of Missouri System. So far, his subjects seem quite pleased.

Soon after he sets up shop at University Hall, he will choose a permanent chancellor for the Columbia campus. I hope he names the current interim holder of the office, Hank Foley.

Besides having a first name that itself should qualify him, Hank has performed initial duties with skill and good nature. When Foley took over, the moment called for candor and action leavened with caution. One might say a chancellor always should exhibit those assets, and one would be right, but in my opinion Foley showed his stuff very well at a time when the campus needed his leadership.

Foley makes a good impression. He deals with everyone with friendly openness. He is candid, some say almost to a fault. For my money, officials in his position hardly can be too candid, providing, of course, they display an intelligent understanding of the job ahead. If the more we see, the more we like, then we have the person for the job.

Choi himself will want to keep corrective momentum going. Continuing with Foley is a major step in that direction. Moreover, Foley and Choi share a common interest in engineering. A major goal for the university is to expand research capabilities and resources. Why would the president choose anyone else when he has Hank in waiting?

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Springfield News-Leader, Nov. 28

Twenty years ago, Keith and Karen Jaspers wanted to give back. The family had been successful financially and saw a need in Nicaragua.

Two decades later, more than 1,000 homes have been built for families in poor communities, and the faith-based Rainbow Network continues to grow.

They plan to double that by 2024.

The benchmark 1,000th house is reason enough for celebration, but the nonprofit has done much more.

It’s offered small business loans, scholarships and affordable health care.

It has given opportunities to entire communities, and the network plans to serve 40,000 additional people each year.

And though this is all done with a giving spirit, the network is finding ways to help Nicaraguans help themselves.

Home loans and micro loans are paid back. Scholarships give entry to schools where young people must work hard to succeed. As families become more financially secure, they pay more for the health care they’re offered.

Springfield should be proud of what the Jaspers have built, and it should be a source of inspiration to anyone else with some means and a lot of will to help others.

There are needs around the globe and at home.

Locally, government agencies, nonprofits and faith organizations are working together more than ever to build sustainable systems. However, we’re unlikely to run out of needs any time soon. There are opportunities to build helpful systems within larger networks.

And perhaps you see a need that isn’t currently being addressed. The Jaspers’ Rainbow Network shows that even a small start can grow into something huge.

It is also a reminder of the great qualities we see in Springfield and the surrounding area - a desire to give, a willingness to work hard, and a belief that those qualities allow us to achieve great things for our community.

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St. Joseph News-Press, Dec. 3

In a matter of a few weeks, a national concern about how to preserve and reuse unoccupied buildings prominent in our inner cities has become a hot topic in St. Joseph.

It’s unfortunate our attention to this issue comes after two major fires, a month apart, that have created craters in our urban landscape, wiped out portions of our rich history and imperiled the future of Home Style Furniture and Bedding, one of Downtown’s most prominent and longstanding retail businesses.

Still, there is no better time than now to leverage this interest for the common good.

Leading property insurers agree vacant buildings tend to deteriorate quicker than those that are occupied and are at greater risk for certain hazards. These include fire, mold, water leakage, crime, theft, weather-related damage, damage from lack of maintenance or supervision, and environmental risks.

Vacant properties can attract trespassers, arsonists, thieves or other criminals, the insurers note. They cite a study in Austin, Texas, that found “blocks with unsecured (vacant) buildings generate 1.8 times as many theft calls and twice the number of violent calls” as blocks without vacant buildings.

The National Fire Protection Association reports there are more than 31,000 fires in vacant buildings per year, resulting in an average of 51 deaths, 4,500 firefighter injuries and hundreds of millions of dollars of property damage. Some 43 percent of these fires are traced to arson.

Vacant properties also can drive down the value of nearby properties.

The record shows our city planners, management and City Council in fact have worked in recent years to advance the cause of making Downtown a much more appealing place for private investment in unoccupied structures. Tax dollars spent on streets, underground utilities and streetscapes have not always been popular, but arguably were necessary to spur private interest.

The city also has supported applications for state tax credits. These have helped over the last 15 years by enabling development of subsidized housing that eventually will transition to become market-rate apartments. Used in moderation, and timed correctly, this tool has proven effective in saving large buildings such as the Townsend & Wall Lofts and boosting activity Downtown.

The specifics of every project - its possibilities and liabilities - are different. It’s important that public-private partnerships be reserved for those that have the highest probability of success and can justify a public stake.

Unfortunately, in competition for tax credits, the Pioneer Building twice was rejected by the Missouri Housing Development Commission for a project that would have been a mix of retail and housing. It was vacant and listed for sale at the time it was destroyed by fire.

We don’t have the answers for how to spur other private property owners to move ahead with their projects, with or without public incentives. But we do think it necessary for the city, Downtown boosters and investors, and historic preservationists to redouble their efforts to work together to achieve this aim.

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