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OP-ED: Texas should invest in child abuse prevention

The cost of preventing child abuse is small compared to the cost of cleaning up its damage

OP-ED: Texas should invest in child abuse prevention

Madeline McClure, CEO and Founder of TexProtects

This op-ed was published in the Odessa American and El Paso Times

At the Texas Capitol, our legislators take pride in being fiscally conservative. They're always looking for a way to keep government lean and let taxpayers keep more of their hard-earned money.

But as a former Wall Street financier, and now as the executive director of a nonprofit that must keep a close eye on scarce dollars, I also know that sometimes the best way to save money is actually to invest. Or as a doctor will tell you, prevention today makes tomorrow's expensive cure unnecessary.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and I hope I can persuade Texans, including legislators, that investments in proven, evidence-based home visiting programs are both effective and the fiscally conservative way to deal with the scourge of child abuse and neglect and a myriad of other social ills.

Home visiting programs involve trained professionals such as nurses or social workers paying regular visits to homes of at-risk parents and their young children.

Enrollment by the families is voluntary, and the programs reach out to parents that may not have the education, financial resources, family supports or required skills for arguably the most difficult jobs for anyone: Raising healthy, educated, well-adjusted children.

Parenting skills are not innate. They are taught and learned by example, and not every new parent is fortunate enough to have such examples.

Evidence from long-term studies shows that these visits provide parents with the education and skills needed to become more resilient, better able to handle stress and care for themselves and their children, therefore decreasing the risk and incidence of child abuse and neglect and other costly negative outcomes.

Families receiving this help are more likely to complete their education and enter the workforce and less likely to need social services such as remedial services, food stamps, and Medicaid.

In 2013, the continuum of family support home visiting programs had the capacity to serve a mere 10 percent of the 205,000 Texas families with young children considered in highest need, spanning only 68 of Texas' 254 counties.

Texas' goal should be to reach at least half of those highest-need families by 2023 — more than 100,000 families. That will require a strong investment today.

Legislators should and will scrutinize such an investment with a cautious eye, but they need to consider that the cost of preventing child abuse is small compared to the cost of cleaning up its damage.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the lifetime financial cost — medical, educational, welfare, criminal justice, and lost productivity — for just one year of confirmed cases of child maltreatment in the United States is about $124 billion.

Americans spend nearly $1.3 million for every child that dies from abuse and more than $210,000 for every abused child that lives. Based on these costs, Texas spends about $14 billion on the aftermath of that one year of abuse.

But these are costs we can avoid.

Ultimately, my biggest motivation in combating child abuse is saving lives, which are priceless. But when saving lives also means saving society and our taxpayers billions of dollars, these investments help us all.

I encourage the Texas Legislature to pledge these ounces of prevention for the pounds of cure that will be returned to Texas — please support funding for home visiting and other prevention measures.

Madeline McClure is the founder and CEO of Dallas-based TexProtects, the Texas Association for the Protection of Children.

Posted on May 5, 2015.

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