Guest viewpoint by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett
As a grandfather of three young girls, who bring so much happiness to our family, it is difficult to understand a child being subjected to harmful neglect or abuse, especially from a family member.
Even one case is too many, but we continue to see these tragedies with 655 children dying due to abuse or neglect in Texas in the past five years. As we observe National Child Abuse Prevention Month this April, we must redouble our commitment to prevent children from suffering or dying at the hands of those who should be caring for them.
Much of what needs to be done to reduce child abuse — and fatalities stemming from such mistreatment — is as simple as dedicating more local, state, and federal resources.
Over the past two years, repeated reports of inadequacies in the caseworker system have led to the kind of attention to this problem that has the potential to truly create lasting change.
One problem has been child caseworkers who find themselves overburdened with an unrealistic workload. Thus, the turnover rate of new front-line caseworkers in Texas remains over 40 percent annually.
A caseworker losing critical contact with a family can lead to an absence of treatment, counseling, or care, and, ultimately, to tragedy.
One study has shown that a child with one consistent caseworker has about a 75 percent chance of achieving placement in a permanent home, but when a case is handed off to another worker, a child’s chance of reaching permanency within a year plummets to less than 20 percent.
To assess the true national scope of the problem and provide a roadmap to make improvements, I successfully authored the Protect Our Kids Act that created the National Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities.
I testified before the commission during its first hearing last June in San Antonio at the UTSA Downtown campus to assess the efforts currently taking place to combat child maltreatment.
In addition to reducing caseloads, more of our efforts should be focused on prevention rather than reaction after abuse has occurred. One such effort that has proven effective is nurse home visiting, which helps economically disadvantaged parents become the parents that they want to be.
With guidance from qualified professionals, it provides services to families who have a child with disabilities. Nurse home visiting has been shown to dramatically reduce child abuse and neglect injuries and improve educational outcomes for children most at risk of maltreatment.
We can work together to prevent the tragedy of child abuse by supporting the dedicated individuals and organizations like the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Texas, Voices for Children, ChildSafe, the Child Protection Center and CASA, who tackle these issues daily.
It is my hope that the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities will take the information it has been gathering to help in correcting the systematic failures in the prevention of child abuse and neglect nationwide.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett represents the 35th Congressional District of Texas.