If you could pay to prevent child abuse and neglect, would you? How about preventing kids from dropping out of school? What about juvenile crime and delinquency?
For many of you the easy answer to this question is YES. But for many years here in Nebraska, our government (from the Legislature to the Governor) has answered differently. Their answers have been something more along the lines of, “We love children but there’s not enough money to pay for that.” If you need proof just look at what the Legislature did last year- making cuts to children’s behavioral health services, child care subsidies, and education to balance the budget.
Prevention always seems to lose out when it comes to the state and even the federal budget. Just today, Congress took a step towards drastically reducing the funding available to juvenile justice systems, specifically violence prevention.
No matter what issue area we’re talking about, prevention should always be considered. But for the sake of keeping this to a blog post, I’ll stick to talking about the prevention of child maltreatment. Here are a couple reasons why these programs deserve to be invested in:
1. If we really want to keep kids safe, prevention has to be a big part of our agenda. Child maltreatment (abuse and neglect) can have devastating impacts on children, from impacting brain development, to social and emotional challenges, to behavioral consequences which make children more likely to come into contact with the criminal justice system. Here in Nebraska the number of victims of child maltreatment has been rising since 2000. That means every year there have been more children in Nebraska whose experiences will likely negatively impact their future.
2. Failing to prevent maltreatment costs money too. A 2001 study by Prevent Child Abuse America concluded that child maltreatment cost the United States $93 billion a year in direct costs (court expenses, services, caseworkers, etc.) and indirect costs (mental and behavioral health consequences, lost economic potential, later involvement in the criminal justice system).
3. Prevention programs have positive impacts on kids and families. To take just one example, Home Visiting programs have been found to not only reduce the likelihood of abuse and neglect, but also improve birth outcomes, child health, and school readiness – all foundations for a successful childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
As the Nebraska Legislature prepares to come back into session in January with an eye on reforming our child welfare system, Voices for Children’s humble request is that they don’t forget prevention.