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Child abuse is a nationwide health crisis. Most recent data shows that, across the U.S., a staggering 676,000 children are victims – numbers that are increasing.
In Michigan, as we continue efforts toward sustained economic recovery and where strong families are vital, the picture is bleaker. From 2010-2016, the rate of abuse rose 30 percent to nearly 40,000 victims each year, while the number of children actually decreased. This, dramatically higher than the national average, places us 46th in child safety.
More alarming: Michigan ranks 50th (last) where abuse leads to fatalities of infants under the age of 1. We’re moving in the wrong direction.
Child abuse and neglect take on a multitude of faces: maltreatment, homelessness, food insecurity, academic difficulty and many more maladies. Poverty effectuates and exacerbates. Today, the opioid epidemic brings a new stark reality: parental drug abuse.
In 2017, 49,000 people died from opioid abuse in this country. Experts estimate that number skyrocketed to 72,000 in 2018. In turn, 1 of every 3 children is now entering the foster care system due to parental drug misuse.
There are no simple solutions yet several to consider. One is reporting. We must know how extensive the problem is. States may voluntarily submit information on child abuse to the national database but reporting is not mandatory. We need consistency, transparency, accuracy – who, what, when, where and why. Only then can we allocate resources necessary to prevent, remedy or end the problem.
To tangibly affect the lives of these children and their families, there must also be a commitment by government to funding child abuse prevention programs. The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), up for reauthorization with Congress, currently faces an uncertain future. Such funding must be maintained if not increased and improved upon. Moreover, if we are declaring war on opioids, let’s put a plan in place and money behind it. We either fund now or pay dearly later.
And there needs to be a coalition of community that brings together all sectors – faith based, business, education, legal, philanthropic, nonprofit and civic government – to mobilize, build and maintain strong families and safe communities. Methodist Children’s Home Society (MCHS) has opened a new satellite office in Detroit to expand our child abuse prevention and substance abuse programs throughout the community. This, in addition to providing foster care and adoption services. We all must play a role.
I would suggest a mandate for each of us to discuss, understand and tackle the issues and effect change. With more knowledge and resources, we can be better together. We talk a lot about the need for a strong, skilled, competitive workforce – to fill jobs, fix roads and move our economy forward. Yet, we are faced with the prospect of raising a generation of children who are emotionally, physically and mentally unable to function let alone succeed. Nelson Mandela put it best: “The true character of society is revealed in how it treats its children.”
Kevin Roach is CEO of Methodist Children’s Home Society, with facilities in Detroit and Redford.