Another Voice: We know how to prevent child abuse deaths, but we have to act on the knowledge - The Buffalo News
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Another Voice: We know how to prevent child abuse deaths, but we have to act on the knowledge

By Melanie Blow

If we do nothing more than focus our outrage at Jacob Noe’s tragic murder on Child Protective Services reform and reshuffling, we sentence more children to death, and to lives marred by abuse. While we don’t like seeing children die from abuse, we also don’t like paying its financial costs, dedicating money and political capital to preventing it.

It’s easy to identify new parents who are at a high risk of abusing or neglecting their children. Programs like Healthy Families NY provide these new families with intensive emotional support and skill-building. Participating parents are much less likely to abuse their children, which causes an immediate reduction in taxpayer expenses. But despite its success, the program is not available to more than 10 percent of high-risk families statewide. Six years of flat funding have decreased the number of families it helps.

A history of sexual abuse increases someone’s odds of suffering from mental illness, drug addiction, poverty and becoming a teen parent – all things that increase the likelihood of child abuse.

A statute of limitations on the crime renders laws against it largely unenforceable. It takes an average of more than 21 years before victims can talk about their abuse, and the current statute of limitations bars victims from court on their 23rd birthday. The Child Victims Act would fix this glaring problem, but has not been signed into law in the last nine years.

There is a strong correlation between domestic violence and child abuse. Child protection workers often have little knowledge of the dynamics of domestic violence, and Family Court judges often have little knowledge of child or domestic abuse. Certain partners abuse their children to control or punish their partner. Ensuring that everyone involved in custody cases involving domestic violence or child abuse has a certain level of training on the subject ensures these cases are recognized early and the abusive partner can’t harm his or her child. This keeps messy, complicated cases out of CPS, thus reducing their case loads.

If we tolerate child abuse, we will need to endure its consequences, the most tragic of them being child fatalities. If we respond to tragedy by doing nothing but punishing and regulating CPS, more children will enter the system. Child abuse isn’t cheap, in short-term or long-term costs. CPS isn’t cheap. The financial price tag that comes with every murdered child is horrifyingly high, and the financial costs are perhaps the smallest that we all have to bear.

We know how to prevent a huge amount of child abuse. We know the consequences for not doing so. We have chosen not to do it for years. We are now faced with a decision: Keep paying these staggering costs, or make a change.

Melanie Blow runs the Stop Abuse Campaign’s New York operations.

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