Monday, September 17, 2007

Elected leaders should focus attention on child safety

(Published 6/21/07)

Consider this sampling of recent newspaper headlines:

• "Day Care Worker: I Bound Boy With Masking Tape to Keep Him Quiet:" The two-year-old Oklahoma boy died.
• "Man Charged With Hiring Hit Man to Kill Family:" This Massachusetts man directed the hit man to pump two bullets each into the heads of his wife and mother-in-law but shoot his 7-year-old daughter in the chest, instead, because he wanted her to have an open-casket funeral.
• "South African Woman Guilty of Hiring Hit Squad to Kill Baby:" In this, the first known contract killing of an infant in South Africa, the woman arranged for the murder of her lover’s six-month-old baby daughter, who was stabbed in the neck.
• "Police: Washington Man Drowned Child for $200,000 Insurance Policy:" The Associated Press reported that the man "has a history of dating single mothers, urging them to take out insurance policies and harming their children, including burning the hands of one and giving another a hot cup that blistered her lips."

These are just a few of the examples of the kinds of abhorrent things that are happening to children around the world. There are literally hundreds of thousands of other little boys and girls being neglected and abused, even as you read these words.

Here in Alabama, an editorial in Monday’s Tuscaloosa News noted that "it has been hard to get Alabama’s elected leaders interested in investing more in abuse and neglect prevention programs."

Why? Um, perhaps it’s because they are too busy giving themselves 62 percent pay raises and insulting and punching each other. But I digress.

Why is it so difficult to get elected leaders to focus attention on efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect? If there’s ever been a role for government, it’s protecting children.

Still, as any child services advocate would tell you, it’s rough going in state capitals when it comes to funding. After all, children don’t vote. Perhaps more tellingly, they don’t write campaign checks, either.

But there’s no public outcry on this issue. Is our apparent callousness the reason it is so difficult to get elected officials involved?

The authors of one study, released last week by the University of Alabama, are apparently trying to speak to legislators in a language they’ll understand. Their report says that child abuse adds up to approximately $521 million every year, in direct costs, like hospitalization and child welfare system costs, and indirect costs, like lost productivity to society and adult criminality, according to the Associated Press.

Also according to the AP, the deputy director of the Department of Child Abuse and Neglect said the new information "helps advocates by giving them easy-to-grasp figures for use when talking to legislators about budgeting needs."

Because, you know, the bar is extremely high when it comes to proving the worthiness of projects funded by the state.

Sidebar: I wonder ... did State Sen. Phil Poole produce such documentation when he got $1 million allocated from the General Fund for road projects in his district?

I’ll go out on a limb and say ... no.

Alabamians reported 26,992 cases of child abuse last year alone. The financial costs may add up to $521 million a year, but they pale in comparison to the immense suffering borne by these young victims.

Studies show that abuse prevention efforts result in fewer abused and neglected kids. That the Legislature won’t invest more in them is just the latest in a long line of inexplicable and inexcusable failures at the Alabama State House.

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