Archive for Thursday, April 13, 2006

Awareness key to preventing child abuse

April 13, 2006

April is the first full month of spring: a season associated with fresh beginnings and budding life. It's also a month dedicated to raising awareness about child abuse and neglect. Why should you care? Because in the United States, more than a million children are abused, neglected or abandoned each year. Every 10 seconds, a child is abused somewhere in this country. And, on average, more than three children die each day as the result of parental maltreatment. Those are harrowing statistics.

Unfortunately, these subjects hit very close to home. The Kansas Social and Rehabilitation Services receives more than 1,200 reports each year of child abuse and neglect. Last year alone, the Johnson County District Attorney opened 390 child abuse and neglect cases. Every day, there are approximately 600 children in Johnson County in the foster care system. And two out of every five children who are eligible for Head Start are not in the program.

Child abuse and neglect have long-term community consequences, too. We know, for example, children who suffer abuse and neglect tend to score lower on IQ tests and reading comprehension assessments, and have higher unemployment rates as adults, higher rates of drug and alcohol addiction and higher rates of suicide. We also know children who are abused or neglected are 53 percent more likely to become juvenile delinquents and are 38 percent more likely to engage in violent crime.

The annual costs resulting from child abuse, neglect and abandonment are substantial, and are increasing each year.

It's been estimated taxpayers contribute more than $24 billion each year to combat child abuse, neglect and abandonment via government-sponsored programs. At the local level, we're learning we can either invest in our children through preventative programming or pay costs later on -- often significantly higher -- as they become juvenile offenders, adult criminals and dependents on government-paid social and welfare programs.

Because this April marks the 20th anniversary of Child Abuse Prevention Month, it's appropriate to highlight the importance of the Court Appointed Special Advocate program.

CASA is a national network of volunteers providing invaluable service and support to children in need. Because of CASA volunteers, more than 200,000 children in need of help across the United States have a better chance of finding a safe, permanent home.

Judges, attorneys, and social workers are all involved in cases involving child abuse and neglect, but only the CASA volunteer is focused exclusively on the best interests and needs of the child.

At a recent conference, this point was made clear to me by a young woman who was saved from an abusive home through the intervention and support of a CASA volunteer. In her own words, she explained that to give a child a CASA is to give them a voice; to give a child a voice is to give them hope; and to give them hope is to give them the world. That statement stuck with me. I believe it with all my heart.

So, as you can see, one of the best ways to fight child abuse and give children a better future is to support local CASA programs. Certainly, we should all support CASA through financial donations; but I would also like to encourage citizens to make the commitment to become a CASA volunteer -- to be the difference in the life of a child in need.

Last year, 130 community volunteers brought hope to 300 Johnson County children. Though these successes are wonderful, I believe we can, and we must, do better. While I am proud of these results and the impact it has already had on the lives of thousands of children, all of us must commit to increase public awareness about the damage caused by child abuse, neglect and abandonment.

That's the challenge I make to each of you: to give hope back to children who have no hope of their own. It is my own hope that we can -- and will -- do a better job of nurturing, loving and raising our children. Hope that we can, collectively, better protect them from harm. Hope that, together, we can make the difference in their lives that will allow them to inherit a better, brighter future.

Annabeth Surbaugh is chairwoman of the Johnson County Commission.

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