COUNTY Strong Starts had accomplishments

Ever since Chautauqua County pulled back its $378,000 in federal ARPA money from the Strong Starts Chautauqua program, discussion has focused on the act itself.

But it’s entirely possible the county is acting appropriately as a guardian of taxpayer dollars. We won’t know until more is learned about the results of the county’s investigation — though we say now that the county should be transparent about the investigation and make known publicly the results of the outside investigation.

So, we turn our attention to the problem Strong Starts Chautauqua aims to solve and ask a new question for legislators and County Executive PJ Wendel to chew on — what happens next?

Strong Starts Chautauqua may not be well known to many county residents, and we’re sure many taxpayers want to know what all the fuss is about. We refer back to a guest essay from Dr. Lillian Vitanza Ney and Christine Schuyler, former county public health director, in which it was noted from October 2020 through October 2022, Strong Start Chautauqua prenatal care providers screened 543 pregnant women in Chautauqua County for substance use utilizing the 4Ps Plus. Pediatricians and other early childhood providers screened close to 2,737 children aged 0-5 years with the Ages & Stages Questionnaire-3 and the Children’s Screen for Regulatory Behaviors. Strong Start Chautauqua’s clinical teams then developed treatment plans and services that meet each child and family’s specific needs.

As of May, work was underway to expand the universal Tier 1 screening practices throughout Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, and Allegany counties and include Tiers 2-4 of the SART Model to increase early diagnosis and ensure access to the appropriate services needed to help children succeed.

That’s necessary work to begin breaking cycles of poverty and poor health that hurt children as they age into adulthood and strains the public health system as unhealthy children become unhealthy adults. Our question, then, is if the county has decided the need for the services it wanted Strong Starts Chautauqua to provide doesn’t actually exist?

If the answer to that question is no, then it’s up to the county executive and his public health leadership team to explain how the county will move forward to meet the need without the Strong Starts Chautauqua team.

We should all be willing to let the investigation play out – but the county should move quickly to make sure the need it identified by funding Strong Starts Chautauqua in the first place is met, regardless of who uses the money.


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