Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention: Is More Than a Funding Stream

Article excerpt

Child abuse and neglect prevention often invokes the notion of children's trust funds, Community Based Child Abuse Prevention, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, and other funding streams that support the critical work of preventing the abuse and neglect of our nation's children. The work of the professionals who manage these funds is critical to the overall ability of our nation to promote the healthy development of children. These dedicated professionals, however, cannot, and should not, solely be held accountable for a responsibility that belongs to every adult and community in America.

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Our thinking about prevention must shift from how it is paid for to a comprehensive national policy to ensure that all children have the ability to live in safe, stable and loving environments regardless of where the child lives, attends school or how much income the family has. A blueprint to enable this policy change involves a 180-degree shift in thinking from policies that deal with abuse and neglect after they take place to policies that focus on preventing their occurrence. To accomplish this, six steps must occur:

* Step One: Help the public recognize and understand the connection between child abuse and neglect and other social ills;

* Step Two: Establish a national child abuse and neglect prevention policy;

* Step Three: Analyze existing funding sources and develop fiscal policies to support activities that prevent child abuse and neglect;

* Step Four: Cultivate multiple and diverse champions to rally the public support necessary to change policies to prevent child abuse and neglect;

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* Step Five: Identify and strengthen governmental planning and quality assurance activities that support a national policy on child abuse and neglect prevention; and,

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* Step Six: Ensure effective state and local planning and implementation of child abuse and neglect prevention strategies.

Our failure as a nation to implement effective policies and strategies to prevent child abuse and neglect costs taxpayers $104 billion per year and does not consider the personal toll on the victimized child. Research shows that child abuse and neglect have life-long consequences not only for the victimized child, but also for the nation. These studies show a strong correlation between child abuse and neglect and debilitating and chronic health consequences, delinquency, criminal behavior, mental health illness, drug dependency and lower academic performance. Child abuse and neglect are serious national problems affecting families, regardless of wealth.

Many recent initiatives and efforts have focused on improving the child protection system. These efforts have resulted in more people looking at prevention strategies as a means to decrease the escalating need and costs incurred for services after the abuse and neglect have occurred. These efforts also provide an opportunity to view the child protection system as a part of a continuum that must include services at the front end. By establishing a national policy on the prevention of child abuse and neglect, coordinated state service systems can be developed that promote healthy child and family development and ultimately a higher quality of community functioning.

Since 1993, market research indicates that more than nine out of 10 Americans view child abuse and neglect as a serious problem. Research as recent as March 2008 indicates that 59 percent of Americans view child abuse and neglect as a problem in their community and 29 percent view child abuse and neglect as a problem in their family. Forty-eight percent who believe that child abuse and neglect can be prevented had diverse opinions on how to prevent maltreatment. Many of the suggestions focused on criminal punishment of the adult perpetrator or other after-the-fact solutions, but not strategies that prevent the abuse or neglect from occurring. …