Texas needs progress on child abuse prevention

Guest Column

By US Representative Lloyd Doggett

 

As a grandfather to three little girls, who bring such tremendous joy to our family, I find it painful to contemplate a child being subjected to neglect and abuse, especially from a family member. But as we observe “National Child Abuse Prevention” Month, we know that so many children continue to suffer this fate. Last year 150 children were killed in Texas from abuse and neglect. Far too many children continue to suffer and die at the hands of those who should be caring for them.

To provide a better national roadmap to address the scope of this problem, I successfully authored legislation to create the National Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities. Recently in Washington D.C., I participated in the commission’s first public meeting to discuss its work and extend an invitation for it to hold its first field hearing in Texas. The commission will travel to Texas on June 2-3 to learn from and assess the efforts currently taking place to combat child maltreatment.

Much of what needs to be done to reduce child abuse and neglect —and fatalities stemming from such mistreatment — is not a mystery. More local, state, and federal resources must be found. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that nearly 40 percent of children with substantiated cases of abuse or neglect receive no follow-up services. The absence of any treatment, counseling, or care in these cases can lead to tragedy. One recent report found that 38 percent of child welfare caseworkers in Texas quit within their first year on the job because they are overwhelmed by the size of their caseloads. Caseworkers in Texas experience foster care caseloads that are nearly double the recommended level.

In addition to reducing caseloads, more of our efforts should be focused on prevention rather than reaction after abuse has occurred. One such effort that has proven effective is Nurse Home Visiting that provides disadvantaged parents with guidance from qualified professionals while they are pregnant and during the first few years of their babies’ lives. Nurse Home Visiting has been shown to dramatically reduce child abuse and neglect injuries and improve educational outcomes for children most at-risk of maltreatment.

More funding to reduce caseloads and invest in prevention is not only right, it also saves money. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the lifetime financial costs associated with the hundreds of thousands of confirmed child maltreatment cases in just one year is about $124 billion.

In December, Orion, a girl just shy of her first birthday living with her foster family in Austin was killed after alleged abuse by her foster mom’s boyfriend, a man who had repeatedly been investigated for child abuse. Police allege he crushed Orion’s head betweenhis knee and the floor. Work to prevent these types of nightmares is already being led by dedicated individuals and organizations like CASA across Central Texas. It is my hope that the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities can learn from what is going right in Texas and, eventually, help us correct the systematic failures that continue to allow tragedies like Orion’s to occur. My Austin office welcomes your input on the upcoming hearing by calling (512) 916-5921 or emailing Lloyd.Doggett@mail.house.gov

 

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) is a senior Member of the House Ways and Means Committee and a Member of the Budget Committee.

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