By Melanie Blow
Like most children’s advocates, I’m happy about the passage of Sen. Tim Kennedy’s bill to equip Child Protective Services workers with more information when they respond to new reports. This will keep endangered children safer.
But it breaks my heart that we accept the inevitability of child abuse. We can prevent so much of it. CPS helps abused children. That’s important. But preventing the abuse from starting is also important. The Adverse Childhood Experience study shows that when children are beaten, raped or neglected or witness the same happening to their mother, they live shorter, sicker lives. A 19-year-old who commits suicide or overdoses on heroin isn’t classed as a child abuse fatality, but statistically, those outcomes are much more likely to befall abused children than those who weren’t abused.
It’s easy to predict if a new mother is likely to abuse her child. By working with her, it’s easy to help her bond properly with her baby, raise the baby without abuse and give her the skills she needs to tackle her own life issues. Healthy Families NY does this in Erie County. Giving every new mother access to this program would slash the new cases of child abuse in the county.
Research shows 40 percent of child murders happen in families experiencing domestic violence. These are the families least likely to respond to Healthy Families NY, largely because the mother lives in constant fear and under constant control of her partner. But there are best practices called the Quincy Solution that slash the incidence of domestic violence, including murders.
These best practices include a zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence at all levels, practices that make it easier for victims to leave and an integrated community response.
About 20 percent of American children are sexually abused before their 18th birthday. While sexual abuse rarely results in direct fatalities, it often results in drug-addicted, mentally ill young parents who struggle not to abuse their own children. New York’s laws against child sexual abuse are largely unenforceable due to a statute of limitations on the crime. If our laws can’t protect children, we must equip the community to do so. We can do this by making comprehensive education about child sexual abuse available to every parent who wants it, and requiring professionals who work with children to do so.
Erie County right now is considering a plan that will do these three things. It will take leadership, bridge-building and cooperation between different layers of state and county government. But it will save lives, stop children suffering and save taxpayers’ money.
Melanie Blow is New York project director for the Stop Abuse Campaign, dedicated to preventing domestic violence and child abuse.