There are so many causes ‘out there’ these days, it can be tough to decide where to invest one’s time and energy, especially when both are limited for most of us. There are the standards; things like the arts, human services, animal welfare, environmental causes. The last few years there have been a spate of natural disasters that are compelling: hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, all of which require significant resources and rebuilding efforts. A USA Today article noted that the Internal Revenue Service had approved 53,693 new applications for 501(c)3 or non-profit organizations promoting a cause in 2010. The internet has also opened a whole new world of charity and it seems there is a never-ending list of new causes asking for donations for anything from shoes for needy children to homes for horses abandoned due to the economy. Add to this a new form of fund-raising through an explosion of crowd-sourcing or crowd-funding websites devoted to fund-raising for a myriad of causes, some charitable and some for-profit causes, promoting support of new businesses, products, or inventions.
With all these challenges and requests for resources, how does a person decide what is most critical, what is most deserving? Clearly that is a personal decision. In light of the ever-growing list of causes, there is value in considering the bigger picture.
- What is the anticipated duration, breadth, and depth of the issue?
- Are these significant enough to justify investments in the cause?
- Is there a personal connection to the issue or cause?
Below are a few reasons that child abuse and neglect, or more specifically, preventing child abuse and neglect, ought to be on everyone’s list of causes worthy of attention and investment of time, energy, and/or resources.
1. Child abuse, especially in early years, effects a child’s ability to learn. This costs everyone in increased educational costs.
One of the most important publications of the last fifteen years, From Neurons to Neighborhoods, documents the importance of early childhood on development and future learning. Child abuse and neglect has repeatedly been demonstrated to impact a child’s ability to form healthy attachments and to learn throughout their lifetime. The result of deprivation or abuse in the first few years of life can result in costs to society in terms of educational needs and supports to improve the ability to achieve optimal functioning, which ultimately influences engagement in and contribution to society.
One estimate has suggested that 1.25 million children in the United States were victims of maltreatment in 2006. Children younger than one year had the highest rate of victimization of 20.6 per 1,000 children in the population. Retrospective studies have found much higher rates of childhood abuse and neglect, with nearly 30% of adults reporting they were physical abused as children.
2. The trauma associated with child abuse and neglect leads to poor health outcomes. This translates into increased health care costs for everyone.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Studies found that childhood abuse and other traumas resulted in a multitude of health problems including depression, heart disease, drug and alcohol abuse, and liver disease, to name a few. Researchers concluded that child abuse and trauma often leads to risk-taking behaviors that result in long-term health challenges and ultimately, in a shortened life span. One study found that multiple traumas could reduce one’s life span by as many as 20 years. Domestic violence, early and unintended pregnancy, smoking, substance abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases are all associated with childhood trauma and abuse.
3. Child abuse and neglect may lead to involvement in child welfare systems and placement in foster care. We all pay for the cost of child welfare services, both directly and indirectly.
Over 250,000 children and youth in the United States enter foster care annually, and the total cost of public child welfare services is estimated to be $29,237,770,193. The foster care system is fraught with challenges, including increased trauma associated with removal from one’s parent or guardian; poor outcomes in safety, permanency, and well-being; and negative long-term outcomes that last into young adulthood and beyond. Over 25,000 youth ‘age out’ of foster care annually, often ill-prepared for the responsibilities of adulthood. These young adults experience high rates of homelessness, incarceration, food insecurity, unemployment, and unmet health needs. Estimates vary with some jurisdictions reporting that as many as 80% of inmates in prison are alumni of the foster care system. Hence, the tax and societal burden extends well beyond childhood.
4. A high percentage of child abuse victims will later abuse their own children as parents. The cycle of child abuse, and associated costs, extend to future generations.
It has been estimated that 30% of child abuse victims will later abuse their own children as parents. While not all child abuse victims will later become perpetrators of abuse, there appears to be a greater than average likelihood that child abuse will continue when victims become parents. Poor coping skills, inadequate role models, lack of family support, and lack of knowledge of appropriate parenting techniques may all collide to perpetuate the cycle of abuse. The result is a never-ending cycle of abuse and/or neglect, and an associated societal burden.
5. An alarmingly high number of children die of child abuse. The potential that exists in these children is forever lost.
Estimates suggest that at least five children will die daily due to child abuse or neglect. In 2010, a reported 1560 children died due to abuse. It is further estimated that this number is grossly understated due to limitations in reporting systems, with the actual number being close to 50 or 60% higher. These children may have gone on to discover scientific breakthroughs, find a cure for cancer, become a world-renowned author or artist, or broker world peace. Imagine a world without Marie Curie, Alexander Fleming, Anne Frank, Helen Keller, Stephen Hawking, or Bill Gates. Yes, there have been many great people who have experienced child abuse or neglect, perhaps great in part because of their traumatic childhood history, in some cases. What we do not and cannot know is how many great people and/or accomplishments have been lost as a result of child abuse and neglect.
6. Every person alive is impacted by child abuse and neglect. Virtually 100% of us will experience the results of child abuse and neglect, both directly and indirectly.
Through our personal, community, or professional contacts, we all will know and be affected by someone who has been abused. We all will pay for the short- and long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect. Within our immediate or extended families, we will all experience to some extent, chemical dependency or addictive behaviors, domestic violence, or health challenges associated with child abuse and neglect. We will pay for the services required to treat child abuse and neglect financially and/or through societal ills such as crime and substance abuse. We will be impacted by the resultant loss of productivity at home and work.
Most of us lock the door to our cars or homes. We do so mostly because of concern over unwanted intruders and/or theft. The persons that commit these crimes are likely victims of child abuse and neglect and we are adjusting our behavior, in part, due to a long-term consequence of that child abuse and neglect. We cannot possibly know for sure the full extent to which our society is influenced by child abuse and neglect, but we know without a doubt that there is a significant impact every minute of every day. We see it in our schools, in our communities, in the news, and in our relationships.
This is why we all need to pay attention to child abuse and neglect.
PostScript: This is written knowing it may be ‘preaching to the choir’, as you probably found your way to this blog because you already have an interest in child welfare. Please do consider sharing widely and often, as it is a message that cannot be overstated.
If you would like more details on any of the information and research presented, feel free to contact me or leave a comment. As always, I appreciate your visiting and feedback!