This month, child advocates across the country are promoting awareness around two very important issues. April marks the national Child Abuse Prevention Month and the Month of the Young Child. Coincidentally, these two topics have a lot of overlap since young children are more likely to be victims of abuse or neglect than older children, particularly infants. In fact, almost 5,000 Michigan babies were determined to be victims of maltreatment in 2011 according to the latest Michigan Kids Count Data Book. And unfortunately in Michigan, child maltreatment has been on the rise since 2005, mainly through the rise of neglect cases. This is directly correlated to Michigan’s rising child poverty rates as evidenced by data – young children under the age of five who are receiving food assistance has also been on the rise from 24 percent in 2005 to 37 percent in 2011.
Unfortunately in Michigan, much of this rise in child maltreatment has been the result of the state’s disinvestment in family support programs. Ensuring that families have the supports they need to provide a safe, healthy, and nurturing home environment is a strategy that improves outcomes for children, particularly those most challenged by their circumstances. However insufficient access to basic needs like adequate employment, housing, food, clothing, and health care have resulted in unacceptable disparities in family and child well-being that continue to grow over a child’s life, including child maltreatment.
The good news is that the best time to prevent child maltreatment is to target families with young children. Child maltreatment typically results from parents who struggle to adequately provide for their children physically, mentally, developmentally, and emotionally. Supports like home visiting programs and other child abuse prevention programs give parents the tools they need to provide a nurturing and safe home environment to be their child’s first and best teacher while saving taxpayer dollars. But as a state, we have struggled to provide these critical supports. While funding to comply with the Children’s Rights Settlement has increased support to foster care and child protective services, funding to support child abuse/neglect prevention has not kept pace. At the same time, Michigan has put additional stress on the lowest-income families with stricter lifetime limits to the Family Independence cash assistance program, reductions in the Earned Income Tax Credit, almost complete elimination of the clothing allowance for Michigan’s poorest children, and stricter eligibility requirements to access the Food Assistance Program. Pulling out critical safety net programs from under Michigan’s most challenged families has a detrimental impact on the well-being of young children and increases the already unacceptable disparities in child outcomes. Reversing some of the damaging changes to basic needs programs while expanding access to child abuse prevention programs are essential to ensure that all children are safe, healthy, and ready to succeed in school and life.
As part of Child Abuse Prevention Month, the Michigan Children Trust Fund is hosting its annual Prevention Awareness Day on Tuesday, April 16th on the Michigan Capitol Steps. This event is a time to recognize Child Abuse Prevention Month and honor all the children and families in our state. It’s also a great time for child welfare advocates across the state to talk to legislators about the importance of prevention programs and basic needs programs and how they benefit your family and your community. As legislators negotiate the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year, hearing about the immediate family and child benefits as well as the long-term savings to the state that child abuse prevention programs provide is critical. Equally important for legislators to hear about are the detrimental child outcomes that result from family stressors related to income insecurity, inadequate health care, and the like. Will you take part in Prevention Awareness Day activities on behalf of Michigan’s most vulnerable children?
More information about Prevention Awareness Day is available on the Children’s Trust Fund website.