Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Christie Appelhanz: Task Force Must Focus on Abuse and Neglect Prevention

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Christie Appelhanz: Task Force Must Focus on Abuse and Neglect Prevention

Article excerpt

Legislation establishing Kansas' new child welfare task force missed a critical piece of the puzzle. We urge task force members to widen their focus to include child abuse and neglect prevention.

The Legislature asked the task force for specific recommendations on the Kansas Department for Children and Families' administration of child welfare, protective services, family preservation, reintegration, foster care and permanency. These topics have two things in common: They seek to help a child and family only after there has been child maltreatment. Progress on each of them is more likely if fewer children suffer abuse or neglect to begin with.

Real progress on prevention is possible because most child maltreatment happens when good people in struggling families are stretched to the breaking point. The National Academies of Science reports that three-fourths of child maltreatment involves neglect, not abuse. As examples of "child neglect," the Kansas Department for Children and Families lists "failure to provide the child with food, clothing, or shelter necessary to sustain the life or health of the child." In other words, poverty. But being poor and being evil are very different things. They require very different societal responses.

Even in cases of abuse, financial strain is a risk factor. A nationwide study of children's hospitals found that every 1 percent increase in parents' 90-day mortgage delinquencies corresponded to a 3 percent increase in hospital admissions for physical child abuse.

Yes, we must often remove children from their homes after abuse or neglect. But that superficial analysis obscures a more damning truth: when maltreatment happens, we have already failed those children, by not investing in the resiliency of their families.

Children thrive when we can keep them safely at home. As research shows, they have better outcomes, including improved health and academic performance, and fewer behavioral issues.

Progress on prevention would also free up scarce resources for children who can never safely return home. …

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