By Melanie Blow
Because I “know about child abuse,” people show me pictures of their children’s skin, defiled with cigarette burns and furrowed with welts. I see medical reports describing as-yet undisclosed rapes, and psychologists’ reports bearing diagnoses like post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD was called “soldier’s heart” because it was first described in combat veterans. Every time a child carries that diagnosis, it means that child has endured something akin to fighting a war.
There is nothing remarkable about the damaged hurting the fragile. Children are inherently fragile. The risk factors that drive a new family to become abusive are well known and easily screened for.
Like other chronic diseases, there are programs to prevent risk factors from becoming dangerous. Yet we let programs like Healthy Families NY, which has a sound track record for molding at-risk parents into exemplary ones, remain unavailable to more than 90 percent of high-risk families that most need it.
All forms of child abuse can kill, whether immediately or by setting a victim down a path of irreparable self-destruction. Our current laws against child sexual abuse are so hard to enforce that no more than 3 percent of offenders will see any prison time, allowing them to continue offending and remain a major threat to public health. The Child Victims Act, a bill seeking to remedy this by removing the state’s statute of limitations on this crime, has floundered in Albany for the last decade.
Making child abuse rare will, hopefully, unburden Child Protective Services and minimize the mistakes that are attributable to inexperience, overwork and burnout. But while public education is constantly discussed by all levels of government, foster care and CPS are never discussed until there is a tragedy.
Following such horrors, there is a frenzy to pass laws with some ostensible relationship to the child’s death, no matter how weak the link. We then ignore the systems until the next tragedy. We need a sound public education system, but when we discuss the infrastructure for helping vulnerable children, we must remember we are talking about life and death.
When people show me pictures and reports, they always ask, “what do you think?” In those moments, my first thoughts are that we are an irredeemable nation with an apathetic many facilitating a cruel few. But that’s not what I really believe. I do believe we can prevent future tragedies like the death of Eain Brooks. We need to care about child abuse when it isn’t in the headlines. We need to use every preventative tool at our disposal, and we need to invest in the creation of more. We need to recognize that the systems that fail someone else’s child harm all of us.
Melanie Blow serves on the board of directors for Prevent Child Abuse NY.