After the shootings in Newtown, many leaders have called for solidarity in keeping children safe. President Obama said it. Republicans and Democrats have said it. And most importantly, the American people are saying it.
The question remains: What will be done?
In 2011, roughly 681,000 children across America were victims of abuse or neglect, and 1,570 children's deaths were attributed to maltreatment. In 2008 alone, 2,298 children were homicide victims. They didn't die in a classroom. Many died at home. In 2007, 1,665 committed suicide.
Despite the events in Newtown, despite facts that reveal how vulnerable our children are, federal funding for some child safety services has been curtailed sharply. The Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative had its funding cut by 70% this year. Safe Routes to Schools funding--down 25%. Safe Schools and citizenship education--down 55%. Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program--down 94%. Juvenile justice funding for at-risk youth--down 58%.
The Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities State Grant Program was entirely eliminated in 2010.
In 2012, the administration proposed to eliminate funding altogether for four crucial programs. These programs strengthen the prosecution of child abuse, increase advocacy for victims of child abuse and neglect, improve the courts' handling of child abuse and neglect cases, and ensure the use of innovative techniques for investigating and prosecuting child abuse cases. All proposed for elimination. While congress did not go along, there were large reductions for these programs.
Cutting funding for programs like these raises immediate risks to children while building in much higher costs when the horrifying results come home to roost. The cost of losing a high-risk 18-year-old to adult criminality has been estimated at somewhere between $2.6M and $5.3M.
Federal funding to keep kids safe is not causing the budget deficit. Less than 8% of the federal budget is devoted to children, and that funding has declined for the last two consecutive years. Failing to "walk the talk" of child safety will send government expenses soaring in the future. What needs to be soaring are the hopes and aspirations of America's children.
When it comes time to decide how to use money wisely, the president and Congress need to maintain federal funding that helps keep our children safe--at home, in school and in their communities.