Investing today for a better tomorrow
County officials will be in Sonoma Monday for the second of six meetings explaining its "Upstream Investment" initiative.
"Upstream Investing" is investing in programs for children, families and individuals to save taxpayer money down the road.
"We want to reduce the incidents of poverty, crime, homelessness, child abuse, substance abuse and domestic violence, among others," said Jo Weber, director of the county's Human Services Department.
"We also want to improve academic achievement," she added.
What the county is looking to do is partner with various nonprofit and social service agencies in hopes that spending money today will lead to improved lives for county residents in the future.
The county started looking into the concept in 2007 while drafting the strategic plan.
"We saw that the spending on the criminal justice system was taking a larger and larger share of the county's budget," Weber said. "We asked ourselves, how do we prevent people from going back into the criminal justice system and how do we keep people out in the first place."
She said county officials looked at types of crime and the social problems they led to down the road.
"We wanted to look at how we can prevent these things from happening and improve the lives of the people in the community," she said.
Weber said she isn't aware of any other counties that are trying to do what Sonoma County is attempting.
But she cautioned that it's a marathon, not a sprint and that results may be 10, 15 or even 20 years down the road.
As part of the project, the county established four goals:
• The whole community is engaged in supporting the healthy development of children.
• Community members have access to education and training and are adequately prepared for the challenges of the future.
• All community members are well sheltered, safe and socially supported.
• Sonoma County has a thriving economy that produces economic security for all.
In each instance, the county has measurable indicators for each goal.
As an example, in the first goal, supporting healthy development of children, the county looks at child maltreatment, youth binge drinking, youth drug use, youth depression, youth tobacco use, teen births and obesity.
Weber said that the organization First 5, which is funded by Proposition 10, an initiative passed in 1998 that added a 50 cent tax to a pack of cigarettes, had funded something called the Nurse Family partnership for the past couple of years.
Nurse Family Partnership is an evidence-based program that reduces child abuse and neglect by up to 80 percent and reduces children's arrests by more than 50 percent, Weber said.
"It's been shown that there's a cost saving of $1.47 for every $1 spent on the mothers, and a $16.62 cost saving for every $1 spent on children," she said.
There are already 13 community participants in the program, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley.
First District Supervisor Valerie Brown, who will be at Monday's meeting, said, "I don't know that I've ever seen a more difficult county budget situation than the one we are in. Innovative approaches to solving problems - like Upstream Investments - are what we need to meet the needs of Sonoma County residents into the future."
Marla Stuart, the director of planning, research and evaluation for the county's Human Services Department, said the upstream initiative is a long-term philosophy to take care of problems early so that it reduces costs later.
"We want to use our money wisely," Stuart said. "We want to pick programs that will make a difference and we want to pick programs that have been proven to work.
At Monday's forum, scheduled for 3:30 to 5 p.m. at La Luz, 17560 Greger St., Weber, Brown and Stuart will be present as well as a representative from the United Way of Wine Country, since it too is a funder of services.
The meeting is open to both service providers and the general public, and Spanish translation services will be provided.
For more information, see www.sonomaupstream.org/.