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In the United States, millions of children are reported as abused and neglected every year. Michael Petit, President of Every Child Matters, asks why the problem of violence against children is far more acute in the US than anywhere else in the industrialized world,
Statistics indicate approximately 20,000 American children are killed in their own homes by family members—nearly four times the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The child maltreatment death rate in the US is triple that of Canada’s and 11 times greater than Italy. Why are millions of children abused and neglected every year?
The answer lies partially that teen pregnancy, high-school dropout rates, violent crime, imprisonment, and poverty—factors associated with abuse and neglect—are generally much higher in the US. In contrast, other rich nations have social policies that provide child care, universal health insurance, pre-school, parental leave, and visiting nurses to virtually all citizens in need.
Children are born into young families in the United States do not have the same government support and are not prepared to become parents. Local social safety nets may be few to non-existent. As a result, they are unable to compensate for the household stress the child must endure.
In the most severe situations, a predictable downward spiral of the parents leads to abuse—and a child dies. Some 75% of children who die from abuse are under four: nearly half of those children are under one.
Geography matters in determining where abuse occurs. The Texas state government prides itself as a low tax, low service state. Its per capita income places it in the middle of the states—Texans pay almost the least amount of taxes in the country. There is tax neither on state nor personal income tax. Retirement is also untaxed.
In terms of key indicators of regard well-being, children from Texas are twice as likely to drop out of high school than children from Vermont. Texan children are four times more likely to be uninsured, incarcerated, and nearly twice as likely to die from abuse and neglect. The state budgeted $6.25 billion in 2007 on direct and indirect costs dealing with after-effects of child abuse and neglect, but only $500 in 2011. Further budget cuts for 2012 are on the chopping block.
Texas children suffer a combination of elements add to the risks a child faces. These factors include a higher poverty rate in, higher proportions of minority children, lower levels of educational attainment, and a political culture which holds a narrower view of the role of government in addressing social issues.
Like many other traditionally conservative states, the Texas state government may have a weaker response to families that need help and are less efficient in protecting children after abuse occurs.
The state budget emphasis raises the question of an expanded federal role. Does the Texas budget address children first or do they fail in providing equal opportunity and protection?
The United States government needs to implement and develop a national strategy to help kids in need. Congress can start by adopting legislation to create a National Commission to End Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities.
Children did not crash the US economy: no federal or state programs children’s programs should be on the chopping block. These budget cuts indicate shortsighted economic policy and morally wrong to make children the price for fixing the economy. Instead, as the American economy lags, child poverty soars. As states cut billions in children’s services, the governments further straining America’s already weak safety net.
Inevitably, these budget cuts mean more children will die. The easy answer on which conservatives rely is to blame parents and already burdened child protection workers. Easy answers don’t solve complex problems.
With millions of children injured and thousands killed, this problem deserves a large response. If budget cuts continue on the backs of children, those who survive or abuse, lack of educational opportunities and poverty with little chance of escape, will only escalate crime and further degenerate the American society.
Ultimately, failing to provide adequate child protective services will only cost taxpayers far more money. For those who choose to chop children’s protective services, perhaps the bottom line might get their attention.
Mad Mike’s America thanks BBC News.
What are ways to influence representatives to increase protective services for children?