09/26/2011 12:55 pm ET Updated Nov 26, 2011

The Death of Even One Child Due to Abuse and Neglect Is Too Many

Each weekend that my wife and I are back in Texas, we try to devote a little bit of time to our three pre-school granddaughters. The joy of being with them and witnessing their growth, their learning, their creativity, and also their innocence and vulnerability is immense. They are in homes where they are surrounded by love; but what a contrast to what we see played out on national TV, with the abuse and death of too many young children. In the last few weeks, I have heard from many concerned folks from San Antonio to Austin that Congress must take a closer look at what we can do about the gap between those children who are surrounded by loving and supportive families and those who are not.

Congress Holds Hearing. In Washington, I serve as the top Democratic Member, or Ranking Member, of the Subcommittee on Human Resources, which has jurisdiction over issues that relate to child care, child and family services, child support, foster care, adoption, and unemployment compensation. Recently, the House passed important legislation that would provide assistance to at-risk families, youth, and foster children by improving and extending key child welfare programs. The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform called this bill, which I co-authored, the biggest change for the better in federal child welfare law in 31 years.

With need growing and funding limited, too many of our most vulnerable children cannot access the services that they so desperately need. This legislation leaves too many problems unresolved, but in our current climate, I believe it is about the best that we can do to protect the well being of at-risk children. This bill reauthorizes help to at least some children, who are victims of maltreatment, provides family support activities to some vulnerable families, and promotes adoption services for those children who cannot safely return to their biological parents.

Earlier this summer, we held a hearing on what we can do to prevent child deaths due to mistreatment. During this important discussion, we heard from Tamara Tunie, who many of us know as Dr. Melinda Warner on Law and Order. Away from the television set, Tamara works as a national spokesperson to end child abuse deaths. Another witness testified that every six hours of every day, a child was reported to have died from abuse or neglect in the United States. Others suggested that a child dies from maltreatment every three hours, or seven times a day. These numbers are staggering, and they represent precious children's lives.

Closing the gap, ending the violence. One of the most important ways we can begin to close this gap and put a stop to the violence is by understanding the causes behind child abuse and maltreatment and what we can do to prevent these causes through support -- certainly poverty, teenage parenting, substance abuse, and mental health challenges are among the considerations. Regrettably, the lives of children have not always gotten top priority or as much attention as this issue is getting now thanks to one horrific story after another on the front page of the newspaper. Unfortunately, the support services that have offered one component of child abuse prevention have been the target of cuts not just in Washington, but in Texas as well.

Cutting these programs penny wise and pound foolish. As my neighbor in Austin, Dr. Jane Burstain, eloquently stated in her written testimony, "To cut programs that support struggling families in tough economic times is the very definition of penny wise and pound foolish and is a choice our children could pay for with their lives." Instead of slashing services aimed at preventing child abuse, we should be working in a bipartisan way to determine how we can make those programs work more effectively. Cutting these programs is cruel. We have a duty to help protect those who cannot protect themselves.

In Texas, the legislature concluded with a more than 40 percent cut in certain child abuse prevention programs, even though Texas has one of the highest rates of child abuse and neglect deaths in the country.

In Washington, I have been vocal about my concerns about the proposal in the House -- the House Republican budget -- to eliminate the social services block grant program which provides some funding that is very important in child protective services. I am also concerned that the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) supplemental grants, which are very important in Texas and 15 other states in providing services, will not be extended. That's why I introduced legislation to prevent the expiration of federal funding under this program. Without action on this issue, states stand to lose more than $3 billion over the next ten years, including over $500 million in Texas, putting at risk a range of vital services, including efforts to ensure that children are cared for in their homes and child care assistance for working parents. At a time when so many services are being cut at both the state and federal level, I am calling on the Republican leadership in Congress to maintain this vital commitment to vulnerable families in Texas and around the country.

Committed to a solution. As a result of the work of the Human Resources subcommittee, I hope we can come up with bipartisan legislation to continue these programs at the funding level that meets families' needs. I will continue to explore what we can do about child abuse, maltreatment, and neglect -- because the death of even one child due to abuse and neglect is too many.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett serves as a senior member on the Ways and Means Committee and the Budget Committee. He is ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Human Resources, which has jurisdiction over issues that relate to child care, child and family services, child support, foster care, adoption, and unemployment compensation. He was re-elected to serve a second two-year term as Chairman of the Texas Democratic delegation.