As you may have seen in yesterday’s newspaper or on the evening newstonight, the Oklahoma State Health Department has come up with a frightening hypothetical proposal to “eliminate” the Office of Child Abuse Prevention. This translates to a significant or complete loss of funds for 21 agencies who are on the front lines of breaking the cycle of abuse that has held Oklahoma back for years.
We all know these are trying economic times and our leaders are faced with tough decisions on where to cut. Yet as we look to our economic future, investing in preventing child abuse and neglect simply makes sense. Investing $1 today can save $2 to $17 on the taxpayers balance sheet in the future. That savings comes from reduced need for things like substance abuse programs, mental health treatment, and incarceration.
When you consider that Oklahoma leads the nation in female incarceration, you can see that making the investment to insure children start life with equal opportunity is crucial. Helping children to thrive, learn, and grow helps build the educated workforce we need in today’s economy.
Beyond the clear economics, the lives children live after suffering from abuse and neglect are changed in ways that words in this letter cannot describe. True pain in a child’s eyes is an emotion not described but felt. Preventing this pain takes people working together.
Everyday in homes across Oklahoma, nurses, support workers and counselors are working with parents and guardians who are asking for help. The programs that would be “hypothetically” cut are all voluntary and for those seeking to be better parents. As a state, are we willing to turn a blind eye to those who are literally asking for help to break the cycle?
As we wait to see if this frightening hypothetical turns into a dangerous reality, I ask that you take a moment to not only reflect on the struggle children who are neglected and abused face, but to also chat with your friends and neighbors. Share your thoughts at the water cooler and online. Together, Oklahomans stand stronger when we face a challenge. We must decide to make protecting children a priority in Oklahoma to save lives and advance our state.
Executive Director, The Parent Child Center of Tulsa