By Melanie Blow
It was with great sadness that I read about the alleged murder of 4-month-old Vernay-lah Laventure. It was the same grief the community felt about the loss of Bianca Cartagena, Abdifatah Mohammad, Roderick Geiger III, Michael Clifford Jr., Gage Seneca, Austin Smith, Eain Brooks, Mayouna Smith, Jacob Noe and Chandler Zuch. Each death sparked outrage, and motivated Child Protective Services to hire workers and change protocols. And each murder was followed by another.
All child abuse is a matter of life and death. The CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experience study shows all abuse and neglect changes how a child’s mind, brain, body and cells operate. Abused children who don’t die from abuse are more likely to die from suicide, homicide, overdoses, diabetes and other maladies.
The good news is we can prevent most child abuse from starting.
Maternal home visiting programs like Healthy Families NY help new mothers bond with their babies, teach them about parenting and help them overcome obstacles like mental illness and addiction. Evidence proves these programs result in healthier, unabused children.
There is a strong overlap between domestic violence and child abuse, and families experiencing domestic violence are harder to help with such programs. But a series of best practices and a coordinated community response reduce a community’s rate of domestic violence crime. While only 15 percent of calls to CPS concern child sexual abuse, many of the parents CPS investigates have experienced it. Educating adults about recognizing and responding to child sexual abuse can spare more children.
Neither Erie County nor New York State can afford our current level of child abuse. A single investigation by CPS costs more than providing a mother in need with maternal home visiting for a whole year. It is rare that a family is investigated only once by CPS. Abuse, neglect and not being “ready to learn” contribute greatly to poor educational performance. And poor educational outcomes, along with the poor physical and mental health and drug addiction caused by abuse, contribute to the crime and poverty threatening to derail Buffalo’s economic recovery.
The 11 children killed in our community deserved more. The 3,750 children whose abuse CPS confirms every year deserve more. The taxpayers of Erie County deserve more. And that’s why the Stop Abuse Campaign is working with county and state leaders to transform Erie County into a community where child abuse is prevented, not tolerated. Taking the strain off the overburdened CPS will grow Erie County’s future by protecting its children.
We must insist Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo fund abuse prevention. One child is too many.
Melanie Blow is operations officer for the Stop Abuse Campaign.