COOPER TWP. — Lyndsey Kramer said she is forever grateful to the Parents as Teachers program, which helped her get sober, learn fundamental parenting and gain a career.

"It's nice to watch the family grow and see her be a wonderful mom," said Ashley Mensch, director of the Columbia County Family Centers, Thursday at the Danville Child Development Center on Bloom Road. Her center is an affiliate of the Parents as Teachers program.

Mensch served as Kramer's parent educator and still visits her, her husband and their daughter, Mya Balazs, 5.

Kramer, of Bloomsburg, plans to start a career in the health care field after Mya begins kindergarten in August.

She and child advocates, including Montour County District Attorney Angela Mattis and state Rep. Kurt Masser, spoke about the Childhood Begins at Home campaign in Columbia and Montour counties. Montour County's program started in June. The child development center's Wall Street location provided space for parent educator, Allison Shay, said DCDC Executive Director Diana Verbeck.

Kari King, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, said there are 1,253 children under age 6 in Montour County, including 340 who are part of families with low incomes, which the campaign considers to be at risk and most in need of help.

Only 38 kids, or 3 percent, in Montour County of all kids under 6, and 11 percent of low-income children under 6 are served by publicly funded evidence-based home visiting programs. The programs include nurse-family partnership, which pairs first-time low-income pregnant women with nurses to improve birth outcomes; child health and development; and family self-sufficiency. The Parents as Teachers program helps parents raise children, she said.

"As the district attorney said, many live with the perils of opiates and evidence-based home visiting programs are another protective mechanism," King said. 

The nurse-family partnership and parents as teacher programs operate in Columbia and Montour counties. The programs have served 131 families, including 20 families in Montour County. 

In Columbia County, there are 3,883 children under 6 and 1,560 low-income children under 6. There were 178 kids served, or 5 percent of all children, and 11 percent of low-income kids, she said.  

Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed an additional $5 million in the state budget that would help 800 more kids across the state, King said. Bruce Clash, state director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, said the money would provide for competitive grants. Mattis is also a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.

Mattis, who says she is a proud graduate of DCDC, said children from strong families have a greater chance of being healthy, productive and law-abiding citizens. "That's why evidence-based home visiting programs are so vital. Some of the most heartbreaking cases I have seen are those involving child abuse and neglect," she said. 

She said she has prosecuted multiple generations of families in which kids don't have adequate intervention. She has seen them charged as juveniles and later with more serious crimes as adults. Abused and neglected kids are twice as likely to commit a crime by age 19 compared with others, Mattis said. 

Masser commended the agencies represented for their work and congratulated Kramer on overcoming struggles. He thanked Columbia County Commissioners Chris Young and Rich Ridgway for their support. Masser said he would fight for the additional funds in Harrisburg.

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