March 29, 2013 

Every day in our state, about 18 children are abused or neglected.

That translates into 125 children each week, on average, or 6,500 a year. In 2010, 12 children died in Washington as a result of abuse or neglect.

Nationwide, the numbers are even more alarming. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there were almost 700,000 confirmed cases of child abuse in the United States in 2010.

More than five children die every day on average because of abuse or neglect, and80 percent of these children are under age 4.

While physical and sexual abuse cases have declined during the past two decades, the total number of abuse and neglect cases each year still approaches 700,000. And because many of these incidents go unreported, the true numbers almost certainly are much higher.

In recognition of this enormous problem, police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors across the state are advocating for more investment in home visiting programs that have been proven to reduce child abuse and neglect. My colleagues and I believe quite strongly in this cause — for three reasons.

First, many of us have witnessed the horrible consequences of abuse and neglect in the course of our official duties. Nothing can fully prepare you for the distressing reality of abuse and neglect. Such experiences shock the conscience and cry out for action.

Second, research clearly shows that abuse and neglect contribute to future crime. While most of the victimized children who survive never become violent criminals, research shows that an estimated 250 victims of abuse and neglect in Washington in 2010 will become violent criminals as adults.

These are individuals who otherwise would have avoided such crimes if not for the abuse and neglect they endured as children. Third, there are effective ways to address the problem. Research has shown that intensive, voluntary home visiting programs can prevent child abuse and neglect, give kids the right start in life and reduce crime.

The Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) identified one home visiting program — the Nurse-Family Partnership — as the single best investment in crime prevention our state can make. The program pairs nurses with young, poor women during their first pregnancy.

The voluntary visits start before the child’s birth and last until the child is 2 years old. Multiple studies of this program with randomized control groups have shown that children whose moms received the home visits were half as likely to be abused or neglected than those who did not receive the services.

And over the long term, the children whose mothers did not participate in the home visiting program had twice as many convictions by age 19 as those who received the services.

Law enforcement leaders in Washington and across the nation support expansion of the Nurse-Family Partnership and other effective home-visiting programs as members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.

We are urging lawmakers in Olympia to increase investments in these proven programs that protect children, reduce crime and save taxpayers millions over the long term.

It’s an old saying but it’s true: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

For more information about Fight Crime: Invest in Kids go to www.fightcrime.org/wa. For more information about the Nurse Family Partnership go to www.nursefamilypartnership.org.

Ken Hohenberg is chief of the Kennewick Police Department.

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