Relief Nursery provides model for proposed national legislation

Sen. Ron Wyden is working on legislation modeled on the Relief Nursery model, which started in Eugene. (SBG/Audrey Weil)

EUGENE, Ore. - Elizabeth Dewitt has 3-year-old twins with autism. She said, for a while, they had trouble communicating to anyone but each other.

"I needed extra help and knowledge of how to do it and they've helped me with that," Dewitt said.

She came to the Relief Nursery nearly two years ago.

At the time, she was frustrated.

Now she's "relieved and happy you know that my boys will be able to talk to other people," she said.

It's the kind of success story that prompted a visit by Senator Ron Wyden Monday.

"With relief nurseries in this community, we've got a model for how the government can come up with better ways to take care of vulnerable children and make sure that each one of those kids is safe," Wyden said.

Wyden is working on a bill modeled after the Relief Nursery, an organization that started in Eugene and helps more than a thousand children every year.

It's called the Family First Prevention Services Act, and the goal is keeping families together and keeping children safe.

The Relief Nursery helps at-risk families.

That includes child counseling, drug and alcohol support for parents, and a number of other services - the same kinds of services that Wyden is focusing on in his bill.

"It's really a shift in the thinking to put funding toward prevention as opposed to funding once a problem or situation has already occurred," said Kelly Sutherland, Executive Director for the Eugene and Springfield Relief Nurseries.

She said that, bottom line, she hopes the bill brings more funding and awareness for the 32 Relief Nurseries across the state.

"There's a very familiar trajectory that happens when children and families don't get help early," Sutherland said, like foster care or the juvenile justice system.

But the resounding theme during the senator's meeting Monday: with enough help, families can turn their struggles around and children can reach their potential.

The bill already passed through the House and Wyden hopes it passes through the Senate next month.

Past coverage of the Relief Nursery

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