Commentary - Minnesota can do betterToo often, the simple joys of a child’s life in Douglas County that many of us take for granted in our own families are far beyond the reach of even our closest neighbors.
By Amy Reineke, Farwell, MN
Too often, the simple joys of a child’s life in Douglas County that many of us take for granted in our own families are far beyond the reach of even our closest neighbors.
Occurrences of child abuse and neglect in Minnesota are all too common.
In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt held the first White House summit on children. Though 100 Octobers have come since then, we still have far to go to ensure the health, safety and well-being of our nation’s kids. The rate of child abuse and neglect deaths in the U.S. is much higher than in other rich democracies, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom.
Tragically, thousands of children die each year in the U.S. at the hands of family members or others living with them. A new report just out from the Every Child Matters Education Fund shows that more than 10,000 children in the U.S. died from abuse and neglect from 2001 to 2007. In contrast, the number of American soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is approaching 5,000.
Where is the outrage about the senseless deaths of our youngest citizens? What are we doing to stop it?
While child abuse and neglect deaths total about five a day in the U.S., experts believe the real number may be as much as 50 percent higher due to inconsistent record-keeping and different definitions of abuse and neglect in the states.
We may be known as Minnesota Nice, but more than 314,000 child abuse reports have been made between 2001 and 2007 in this state, and Minnesota ranks an abysmal 40th in the dollars spent per capita to address abuse and neglect.
Across the nation, we need to do more to support child protection workers – the first line of defense in protecting children in high-risk situations. Their hands are often tied, because they lack the resources, support and training they need to successfully do their job. Caseloads in some jurisdictions are as high as 60 or more, even though national standards recommend 12 or fewer cases per worker to ensure that at-risk children receive the attention they need.
We know a great deal about preventing abuse and neglect and stopping related fatalities. When provided with services and appropriate supervision, the vast majority of potentially abusive parents can learn to safely care for their children. And many abused children who get help are resilient enough to overcome their history. But for many, the outcome is predictable: when childhood goes wrong, adulthood goes wrong, and the sad story of abuse, including death, repeats itself from one generation of troubled families to the next.
While it’s too late to help the children already killed, we can honor their memories by vowing to protect every child in danger. We can overcome inadequate funding and wide variations in capacity among states, by enacting federal policy committed to protecting children no matter where they live.
Child abuse and neglect are national concerns that deserve national solutions. Through the introduction of the We Can Do Better campaign, groups are coming together to raise awareness and press our nation’s lawmakers to develop and fund solutions that will save children’s lives. Among them are providing more support for the stressed families in which abuse and neglect are more likely to occur, modifying current confidentiality laws to allow greater public understanding every time a child dies, standardizing the way states define abuse and neglect, and providing the funding needed to adequately support child protection services.
To protect America’s children is to safeguard the future of the country. It will take a forward-thinking president and Congress to again make it a national priority. People here in Minnesota need to speak up to make sure Washington knows just how important this problem is – including raising it with our own elected officials. Together, we can reduce needless tragedy, and give children the safe, healthy future they deserve.
Amy Reineke is the coordinator of the Early Childhood Initiative in Douglas County. For information about what you can do to help reduce child abuse and neglect, go to www.every