Everyone's problem

Unearthed failures in child welfare system must be fixed

It’s enough to send chills through the bones of any loving, responsible parent – a recent newspaper investigation that found widespread failure in Georgia’s child welfare system.

Those failures, reported the Associated Press, “have given the state one of the nation’s highest rates of death by abuse and neglect ... .” The investigation was conducted by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The newspaper looked at 2,230 reported child deaths in Georgia between January 2011 and July 2013. A little more than 20 percent of those deaths, according to authorities, were accidental. But the newspaper’s probe suggests that as many as a quarter of those deaths were caused either by adult negligence or reckless conduct.

It’s a frightening conclusion that perhaps more people should have seen coming. Consider the state’s findings from earlier this year. A report issued in May by the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services found the number of child deaths in some parts of Georgia to be “unusually high.” In July, DFCS reported that reported child deaths in the first three months of 2013 were markedly higher than in the same period in 2012.

Child abuse isn’t limited to physical violence. Another sickening component is neglect – a caregiver’s failure to provide a child’s basic needs

The CSRA has seen two of the worst abuse cases in recent years. In 2010, Thomas G. Beasley got a prison sentence of more than 100 years for the prolonged beating of his two sons. And in the summer of 2008, Burke County authorities came across the Long family, a brood of 11 children who never had attended school or visited a doctor. The younger ones had never worn shoes. Their home lacked food, water and electricity.

Child abuse is everyone’s problem.

The nonprofit Foundation for Government Accountability, in its most recent Right for Kids Ranking, itemized the burden of child abuse in stark terms.

Consider the cost of hospitalization caused by abuse, and the costs of law enforcement, mental health treatment and child welfare funding. Then there’s the extra burdens on special education, juvenile delinquency and criminal justice spending for these kids when they become adults.

Tack on to all of that the lost productivity from these scarred human beings, and the monetary cost alone runs annually into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

“What is immeasurable,” the foundation said, “is the cost to the life of the abused child.”

Not only is preventing child abuse the fiscally responsible thing to do, it’s unquestionably morally right.

A complete solution certainly won’t be easy, but Dan Hillman – executive director for Augusta’s Child Enrichment Inc., and the Child Advocacy Center & Court Appointed Special Advocates – stresses the importance of adults always reporting suspected abuse. Nineteen U.S. states require by law that adults do this. Georgia and South Carolina, sadly, are not among them.

Another component is uniformity. Too many state and federal agencies keep records differently regarding child abuse. If information were reported into one universal system, the problem could be more accurately analyzed, making officials better informed to implement solutions.

If we want our society truly to cleave to the time-honored notion that our children are our future, then for heaven’s sake – for everyone’s sake – let’s start acting like it.

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