By Molly • Molly Walker • 

Relief nursery to target high-risk families

Jordan Robinson of Lutheran Family Services, which the program will operate under, said a group started discussing the possibilty informally and the idea just started growing, gradually working into applying for grant money. 

The relief nursery will use a nationally recognized model, which has been proven to stop the cycle of child abuse and neglect by using a blend of therapeutic early child services and comprehensive family support. It is designed for families with children from birth to six years old. 

“We’re really excited about the project,” said McMinnville pediatrician Dr. Peg Miller, one of the program’s development advisors. “A lot of us in the trenches see the need — but we need all facets of the community involved.”

Miller envisions the relief nursery as a one-stop place where families and their children will have a therapeutic classroom to help with social and emotional development, plus home visits where teachers can connect with the families.

“I think all these parents want to do the right thing,” said Miller. “They just need education. Sometimes the solutions are simple.”

Salem businessman Dick Withnell has been involved with Salem’s relief nursery, Family Building Blocks, since it started in 1997. He said the concept of the public and private partnership to help families really appealed to him, and he’s seen a significant return on the investment. He said the idea was replicated from one which began in Eugene in 1976, but each relief nursery is tailored to its specific community. 

“For families involved, it really stems juvenile delinquency and other problems,” Withnell said. “It’s really an inexpensive way to have a positive outcome.”

Robinson said that in the 36 years since the relief nursery started in Eugene, there has been a strong program developed and substantial data proving the effectiveness. 

The program is designed to invest early in a child’s life when the brain is developing and have a focus on the child-parent relationship.

“A positive parenting attachment has better outcomes for a person throughout their life,” said Robinson. He said the relief nursery will have a welcoming environment where parents are celebrated for being there.

Robinson said the majority of participation will be voluntary, with referrals made by others such as physicians, pastors and friends. He said there will be an effort to reduce barriers for those who are seeking services.

Those involved in starting the project will also seek ownership and involvement by the community, according to Robinson. 

Miller said that, although children up to age 6 could be involved, the main focus will be children from birth to age 3. 

“With the downturn in the economy, that leads, unfortunately, to a higher need for services, but the money is not available,” said Miller. “Families are under more stress. That doesn’t bode well for children, whether it’s abuse or poverty.” 

Miller said often, parenting issues cycle cross generations, especially if a generation didn’t experience that initial parent bonding. 

“It’s much more difficult for them,” said Miller. “We see that with child abuse. I think it’s a cycle we can break — something that’s treatable and preventable.” 

Governor John Kitzhaber has backed relief nurseries, too. Among the increases in funding for his proposed 2013-15 budget is more money for the programs. 

Robinson and Miller both hope a relief nursery will be started later this year. In the meantime, those involved will be working to gather community support and partnerships, create an advisory council, start fundraising and develop activities before submitting the application to become a provisional facility and, once approved, will hire a director.

They will be looking for a kid-friendly, accessible facility as well. 

“This is a really nice project,” said Miller. She said it will complement nicely with the new coordination of care approach of how health care is being delivered. 

A website for the relief nursery has been established at 




Web Design & Web Development by LVSYS