Child abuse, neglect a growing epidemic
BY JANET PEARSON Associate Editor
Sunday, February 05, 2012
2/05/12 at 2:53 AM
We've all known it's been a really bad problem for a long, long time. But across the nation, new data are surfacing to illustrate just how bad the problem is - and what must be done to keep the epidemic of child abuse and neglect from worsening.
Just last week, a 23-member legislative committee issued its report on the state's foster-care system, recommending, among other steps, that state leaders "adequately fund" the child-welfare system.
The Foster Care System Improvement Task Force called for increasing reimbursement rates and providing more resources and training for foster parents, adding more trauma training for child-welfare workers and other professionals, and improving compensation for child-welfare workers.
The report comes on the heels of a settlement reached with a child-advocacy group that sued over conditions faced by children taken out of their homes. The settlement will require the Department of Human Services to develop an improvement plan that addresses 15 areas targeted by the suit.
Also expected in coming weeks is another set of recommendations from another legislative task force, impaneled by House Speaker Kris Steele, who has made child-welfare improvements a top priority.
Oklahoma, recent national reports suggest, is not alone when it comes to the daunting challenge of protecting children. Child abuse and neglect is such a huge problem one federal agency now is calling it a major public health problem. The problem has become so serious Congress is now considering adopting federal legislation to look into child-welfare systems and what ails them.
And yet another national study essentially boils the issue down to one simple problem: money.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data last week showing that child maltreatment "is a serious and prevalent public health problem in the United States." The agency found that in fiscal 2008, state and local child-welfare agencies received more than 3 million reports of child abuse or neglect - about six complaints per minute every day.
CDC estimated 772,000 children were found to have been maltreated, and 1,740 children aged 0 to 17 died from abuse and neglect in 2008.
More than 740,000 children and youths are treated in hospital emergency departments as a result of violence each year, CDC found - more than 84 every hour.
"The financial costs for victims and society are substantial," CDC concluded. "The total lifetime estimated financial costs associated with just one year of confirmed cases of child maltreatment (physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse and neglect) is approximately $124 billion."
CDC also cited findings that show "each death due to child maltreatment had a lifetime cost of about $1.3 million, almost all of it in money that the child would have earned over a lifetime if he or she had lived." And, "the lifetime cost for each victim of child maltreatment who lived was $210,012, which is comparable to other costly health conditions such as stroke with a lifetime cost per person estimated at $159,846 or type 2 diabetes, which is estimated between $181,000 and $253,000."
Though the enormity of the problem makes progress difficult, there are ways of addressing it. "A promising array of prevention and response programs have great potential to reduce child maltreatment. Given the substantial economic burden of child maltreatment, the benefits of prevention will likely outweigh the costs for effective programs," CDC concluded.
Sometimes it costs money
In other words, sometimes you do have to throw money at a problem. That's the same conclusion reached by a report just out from the Foundation for Child Development. The foundation used state tax rates and the level of state investments in children and child welfare to calculate how well children were doing state-by-state in relation to those expenditures.
Not surprisingly, the foundation found:
- "Higher state taxes are better for children." States that have higher tax rates generate higher revenues, and have higher measures on child well-being indicators than states with lower tax rates.
- "Public investments in children matter." The level of public investment in children's programs is "strongly related" to the how well a state ranks in measures of child well-being. Higher per-pupil spending on education, higher Medicaid child-eligibility thresholds, and higher levels of food-stamp benefits "show a substantial correlation with child well-being across states."
- "A child's well-being is strongly related to the state where he or she lives." Thankfully, for once, Oklahoma did not rank among the lowest states in this survey. But our 43rd place ranking was nothing to be proud of. States with the lowest measures of child well-being were Nevada, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico.
The foundation concluded: "Although states are currently revenue-starved, this is exactly the wrong time to reduce taxes. The revenues generated by taxes should be used to invest in policies and programs that meet the basic needs for children to flourish and become contributing members of our nation."
The foundation urged states to "consider children when focusing on cuts to entitlements" such as Medicaid and to take steps to ensure all children have access to health care. More focus on early learning programs also was recommended.
"Public disinvestments in children have real consequences for generating future tax revenues and for bearing the costs of supporting unhealthy and poorly educated adults," the foundation said.
There's plenty of evidence supporting the notion that investing in children's well-being is the right thing to do. But if that evidence isn't persuasive enough, perhaps the notion of Sen. John Kerry looking over our shoulders will help.
The Massachusetts Democrat is among members of Congress who in December introduced the "Protect Our Kids Act," a measure that would create a "National Commission on Child Abuse and Neglect Deaths to study and evaluate federal, state and private child welfare systems and develop a national strategy to prevent and reduce these deaths," according to a press release.
The lawmakers point to issues raised by child-welfare advocates, including the group that targeted Oklahoma's agency: variations in policy and capacity for protecting children from state to state; different ways of defining, counting and reporting child abuse; lack of coordination and defined protocols in civil and criminal proceedings; issues and hindrances created by federal and state confidentiality laws; lack of resources for prevention and early intervention; lack of professional training, which contributes to under-reporting of abuse and neglect.
The concerns of our national leaders are well-founded. But does anyone really want more federal oversight of a complex problem that we ought to be able to better address on our own? Let's get busy fixing it ourselves.
Original Print Headline: Silent epidemic
Janet Pearson 918-581-8328
Kelsey Smith-Briggs and Serenity Deal, both beaten to death by caretakers. Courtesy