Memphis’ Top Cops Say Child Abuse Linked to Future Crime
Law enforcement leaders say home visits needed to prevent child abuse, juvenile crime
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Nov. 18, 2011
Media Contact: Ted Eismeier
Cell: (315) 335-9222, email@example.com
MEMPHIS (Nov. 18, 2011) — Law enforcement brass took a stand against child abuse and neglect today, saying that it not only harms kids now, but it could also lead to increased crime in the future.
Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich, Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong and Assistant Chief Mark Dunbar of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office raised their concerns at a press conference at the Urban Child Institute in Memphis. They called on state lawmakers to maintain funding for voluntary home visiting programs that can reduce child abuse and neglect and later crime, and to continue to improve the quality of those programs. Dr. Hank Herrod, a pediatrician and contributor to the Urban Child Institute, joined the law enforcement group for the news conference.
The law enforcement leaders released a research report from the anti-crime organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Tennessee showing that nearly 9,200 Tennessee children were victims of abuse or neglect in 2009, over 175 per week, and 46 Tennessee children died from that abuse or neglect.
A major reason why law enforcement leaders want to prevent abuse and neglect is that such maltreatment contributes to future crime. While most survivors of childhood abuse and neglect never become violent criminals, research has shown that approximately 29 percent more of these children will become violent criminals — which equates to about 360 children in Tennessee — than a control group without a history of abuse. Survivors are more likely to abuse their own children, creating a cycle of violence that can span generations.
“The pain, despair and terror of child abuse or neglect is a reality for far too many Tennessee children. Abuse puts children in harm’s way and contributes to future crime and violence in our communities,” Director Armstrong said. “If we can break that cycle of violence early with smart interventions, we will save children from abuse, improve public safety and save taxpayer dollars.
The law enforcement leaders said voluntary home visits for at-risk families could prevent many cases of abuse and neglect from ever occurring. These programs pair nurses or trained paraprofessionals with pregnant women and new parents to teach them about how to meet their child’s health and developmental needs.
A study of one program model, the Nurse-Family Partnership program in upstate New York, compared at-risk children whose mothers received visits with similar children whose families did not participate. Children in participating families were half as likely to be abused or neglected. Children who did not participate in the program had more than twice as many criminal convictions by age 19 as those in families who received the visits. The original Memphis site of the quality nurse home visitation program found significantly fewer cases of childhood injury and child mortality and improved child health among families who participated.
“Our state’s staggering numbers on child abuse are a wake-up call for leaders in Nashville. Our deputies and officers are on the front lines trying to help children who are caught in abusive homes,” General Weirich said. “What we know from research is that providing evidence-based home visiting to at-risk families can help significantly reduce cases of abuse and neglect and later crime. That’s why our state leaders need to improve and expand these voluntary parent-coaching programs.”
Another home visiting program, Healthy Families America, has data from a randomized controlled trial showing that participating mothers reported engaging in physical abuse of their children less frequently than mothers not receiving the program’s services.
The direct taxpayer costs of paying for child abuse and neglect in Tennessee are huge. In FY2006, the total cost to taxpayers from federal, state and local child welfare spending in Tennessee reached over $522 million.
“As a pediatrician with more than 30 years of medical experience and former Dean of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine, I know too well the grave health outcomes that child abuse and neglect can cause for the children who are affected. The real tragedy is that these outcomes are preventable,” Dr. Herrod said. “I applaud the good work that lawmakers are doing to provide voluntary, evidence-based home visiting programs that will offer more children the opportunity for a healthy life and significantly reduce incidence of child abuse and neglect.”
By reducing child abuse and neglect and later crime and other negative outcomes, evidence-based home visiting programs are highly cost-effective. Analysis from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy showed that the Nurse-Family Partnership program produced a net savings for taxpayers of almost $21,000 for each family served. Such returns, however, can only be realized by proven, evidence-based programs, and states need to ensure public investments are directed to those services. Promising programs that lack a strong evidence base should be rigorously evaluated to confirm they deliver desired results.
Tennessee provides home visiting services through four major program models: Nurse-Family Partnership, Healthy Families America, Help Us Grow Successfully (HUGS) and the Child Health and Development program. These initiatives together served over 8,600 Tennessee children and their families in FY2010.
The law enforcement leaders called on Governor Bill Haslam and the state legislature to maintain the state’s investment in home visiting services and continue to improve home visiting program quality in Tennessee. They also urged Tennessee policymakers to pursue new federal funding available to increase access to home visiting services for more families.
“It’s sobering to remember that more than 40 Tennessee children died as a result of abuse or neglect in 2009. It’s our duty to help prevent child abuse,” Assistant Chief Dunbar said. “The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office is committed to supporting proven prevention programs that can help at-risk families and make our entire community safer. We hope Tennessee leaders will hear this important message.”
General Weirich, Director Armstrong and Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham are members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national anti-crime organization of 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and violence survivors, including almost 160 in Tennessee.