Sequestration is a scary word. Outside of Washington, D.C., it has the sense of seizing property or isolating juries. But the D.C. definition -- a general cut in funding -- carries a real likelihood of danger. Danger to children.
Many programs that keep children safe, educated and healthy are supported at least in part through federal discretionary spending. An eight percent reduction in those funds may not sound like an overwhelming amount. But it comes on top of already large cutbacks for children. In recent years, 31 federal programs for children have been entirely eliminated, and another 71 saw their funding reduced, affecting everything from child safety to health and education.
It's not as though these programs aren't sorely needed. One of the programs, cut back by nearly 77 percent, was for violence prevention in schools. It's too bad it takes an awful incident in an elementary school for people to realize how important this funding is. Do children have to die before we think about investing in their safety?
Recent funding cutbacks have already threatened to interfere with core commitments our nation made to children. Among the most vulnerable are children who cannot live safely at home due to abuse and neglect. They are under the care of state child welfare systems -- which are already reeling from previous federal and state cutbacks. Yet funding for the four child abuse programs in the Victims of Child Abuse Act were targeted for elimination in the last two Administration budgets. Congress did step in and preserve funding, though at hugely reduced levels. These levels may be reduced even further through sequestration this Friday.
These federal funding trends would be of less concern if private charitable giving was helping to fill in at least part of the need. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened. Charitable giving for human service organizations declined last year. Over the last five years, the number of new donors giving to human services has gone down.
It is downright expensive not to make investments in good programs that help children. For example, a foster youth who is connected to a trusted advocate and mentor is more likely to carry with her a varied set of protective factors. Research shows that this will lead to more positive outcomes. And the consequence of not doing right by a foster youth? Tens of thousands age out of that system every year and are at high risk for homelessness, unemployment and criminal behavior. The median cost of a single incarceration was $31,000 in 2010. We would all save money, and feel safer, if we invested that money in young people rather than wasting it on prison cells.
Politicians are fond of referring to every parent's dream of a better life for their children. If we believe in our children's safety and well-being, then budget decisions need to be based on a real understanding of the connection between funding and those dreams for our children.