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Preventing child abuse in the first place

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Lukes Dad's picture
on Sat, 04/21/2012 - 08:05

A ten-year old girl that was abused draws hearts on a sketch pad toy in the waiting room of the Child Protection Center, part of St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids, in 2003. The girl sits besides a Cabbage Patch Kid doll that the Child Protection Center gave her as a gift for coming into the center to be interviewed by a specialist about the abuse she experienced. (Gazette file photo)

An ounce of prevention isn’t just the opening phrase of a worn-out cliche. It’s a brilliant approach to child welfare.

I dare you to find anyone who would argue it’s better to wait to offer a hand until a tenuous family situation deteriorates into abuse.

Yet that’s how our child protection structures work, for the most part. Funding for foster care and adoption is stable and relatively plentiful. Funding for prevention, scarce and uncertain.

With few exceptions, it’s up to state legislators and local groups to scrape together the resources to keep families safe and intact. To address the stresses that threaten and teach the skills that protect — the ounce of prevention that makes families strong.

We got some good news on that front this month, with the announcement that the state Department of Public Health’s fledgling Maternal, Infant, Early Childhood Home Visiting Program got a $6.6 million boost from federal health care reform funds.

The voluntary program offers comprehensive support to pregnant women and families with young children in a handful of high-risk counties.

They give priority to families who could really use the help — low-income or younger pregnant women, for example, or families with a history of child abuse or neglect, or who have children who are struggling in school, have developmental delays or disabilities.

The home visits aren’t to punish or investigate — rather, to help identify potential problems and connect families with resources before tiny issues become crises.

The program measures outcomes such as increased child health, safety and development, and strong parent-child relationships to make sure the relatively meager budget is wisely spent.

Research has shown that home visits can slash the number of child abuse and neglect cases by half.

That’s right, half.

The federal grant is a much-needed shot in the arm that will allow expansion into 14 high-need counties, making the program available in 18 counties, all told. Of course, that leaves out 81 counties, including Linn and Johnson. For now.

Some of the grant money will go into building statewide infrastructure that would support future expansion of the home-visit program. That’s something our state leaders need to get behind.

Because we need a solid safety net for children who are being abused and neglected, but it’s so much smarter — for kids, families and communities — to work upstream.

An ounce of prevention. Not a new idea, but a smart one.

Comments: (319) 339-3154; jennifer.hemmingsen@sourcemedia.net