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Early intervention reduces the chance of violence

T.S. Eliot wrote that "April is the cruelest month "

In Buffalo, this is sadly true given the horrific child homicide that has rocked our community. Ironically, April was National Child Abuse Prevention month, yet we saw major stories in The Buffalo News of unspeakable acts of violence against two young children.

While we grieve for the victims, it is time for us to face unpleasant truths about ourselves as a nation. Every five hours, a child dies from abuse or neglect in the United States.

We have the highest child homicide rate of any industrialized country. American children are 2 1/2 times more likely to die from abusive fatalities than children growing up in the United Kingdom.

Government statistics tell us that in 2009, 1,770 children died from abuse or neglect. Some experts think that due to underreporting, the real number is closer to 2,500. Very young children, those 4 and under, are the most frequent victims and in 75 percent of the cases the parents are responsible for the death.

Stricter penalties for perpetrators, while important, do not address the root causes of the problem of child maltreatment. These punishments are inherently reactive and fail to prevent the serious potential emotional, physical and economic consequences of child abuse.

Children are, by their very nature, powerless and vulnerable. They cannot speak for themselves and they don't vote. They are dependent upon caring adult policymakers to support and protect programs that are effective in interrupting the cascade of risk factors that contribute to this devastating crime.

On the bright side, New York State has such a program, the Healthy Families New York Home Visiting Program. The program, which offers home-based services to at-risk expectant and new parents in order to improve birth outcomes, lists as one of its objectives reduction in child abuse and neglect.

The official website includes research showing that, compared to a control group, parents who participated in this program had significantly fewer cases of confirmed abuse or neglect.

Sadly, due to the budgetary problems in our state, this and other effective programs are being scaled back or eliminated altogether.

While it is easy to understand the appeal of quick-fix, cost-cutting measures, it is well-documented that early intervention is, in fact, far less costly than treating the aftermath of accumulated stress.

In difficult economic times, wise investments become more, not less, important. What could be more important than investing in the children who will be the future of our community?

Bonnie L. Glazer is president of Child & Adolescent Treatment Services. Judith G. Olin, Esq., is director of the Lee Gross Anthone Child Advocacy Center.