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Commentary...Mayor Fenty's Child Abuse Prevention Plan...Judith Sandalow

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The Fenty Administration recently released a plan to prevent child abuse and neglect within the District but as commentator Judith Sandalow asserts, it gives little more than lip service to the effort and is undermined by the Mayor’s proposed budget cuts.

Sandalow is Executive Director of Children’s Law Center.

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Four years after he called for a District-wide plan to prevent child abuse and neglect, Mayor Fenty quietly issued a press release announcing the plan had been completed. It wasn’t worth the wait.

The inconspicuous nature of the announcement speaks volumes about the District’s lack of commitment to actually prevent child abuse and neglect. Indeed, the plan itself is all talk and very little action.

I just don’t understand the Mayor’s lack of urgency.

Our child welfare system is overflowing. Almost 4,000 children were abused or neglected in fiscal year 2009 alone. There are more than 2,000 children in foster care at any given moment and another 2,000 children whose families are monitored by our child welfare agency. With the troubled economy sending thousands of additional families into poverty, we can only expect this number to increase.

The suffering behind these numbers is almost unspeakable.

Imagine an infant whose arms have been broken by being twisted or a toddler struggling to sit up by himself because he is brain-damaged from having been shaken.

Picture trying to teach love and trust to a seven-year-old child who was never picked up when she cried, never fed when she was hungry, and never hugged when she was scared.

The pain reverberates across the District in the form of increased homelessness, unemployment and crime - and costs taxpayers dearly.

What is most puzzling about the Mayor’s prevention plan is that it ignores proven solutions to the problem. Studies show that when nurses visit pregnant women and new mothers at home, child abuse can be reduced by almost 50 percent. Experience tells us that providing parents with rental assistance, mental health treatment and substance abuse counseling keeps children safe.

Why, then, doesn’t the Mayor’s plan involve implementing any of these programs? Instead it creates committees and promises to develop a financial plan next year. The most concrete action calls for putting training materials on a website.

The Mayor’s lack of commitment is echoed in his proposed FY11 budget. Not only are there no new initiatives to prevent child abuse - the Mayor actually proposes cutting existing programs.

The Mayor may be willing to wait a few years before protecting our children - but you don’t have to. You can pick up the phone today and make a call that will keep a child from being abused. Call D.C. Council Chair Vincent Gray and the Councilmember for your ward and tell them to restore funding for programs that protect children. Tell them to restore funding to Rapid Housing, which keeps children out of foster care. Tell them to fund the Grandparent Caregiver program, which helps low-income grandparents keep their grandchildren at home rather than going into foster care.

These are just two of the programs that the Mayor proposes to cut in fiscal year 2011. But the D.C. Council can restore this funding - and they will if they hear from you. Go to www.dccouncil.washington.dc.us and click on “contact us.”

The D.C. Council needs to hear what the Mayor has not. We are a city that chooses to protect our children and wants our elected leaders to take action - not just talk.

I’m Judith Sandalow.


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