By CAROLINE BECK and MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A new report from the Alabama Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention says that the cost of child maltreatment, abuse or neglect has cost the state around $3.7 billion.
Various community organizers and state agencies that work to prevent child abuse gathered at the State House on Tuesday to present the report and stress to legislators the importance of investing in child maltreatment prevention.
“You can pay now or you can pay later; you can’t do more with less,” Sallye Longshore, Director of the ADCANP, said on Tuesday.
The report was developed in collaboration with the University of Alabama and analyzes first-time victims of child maltreatment from 2018. It includes the cost of various categories associated with child abuse such as low birth weight, chronic illness, childhood mental health care, child welfare systems, law enforcement intervention, special education and juvenile delinquency, among others.
“By documenting its substantial financial impact on our state, this report shows how far reaching this issue is and how the prevention of child abuse and neglect should be a priority for us all,” Dr. Stuart Usdan, University of Alabama Dean of College of Human Environmental Sciences said on Tuesday.
One of the categories that showed the largest cost to the state is the impact on worker productivity of the victims which the report says cost $2.7 billion. The report does not include the associated intangible costs – pain, suffering, and grief – of families and victims.
Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, is the ADCANP board chair and said she expects the cost to be even greater after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This [report] is all pre-COVID, and when I look back at the things we’ve lost: the loss of life, the loss of learning, the sickness, the fear – we don’t really know what’s happened to some of these families and to these children,” Collins said. “So some of the things we are about to hear have been made worse over the last year.”
Child abuse and neglect is defined by the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act is any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or an act or failure to act that presents an imminent risk of serious harm.
The four most common types of child maltreatment are physical, sexual, emotional and neglect, which are recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Alabama, the most common type of abuse is physical abuse of children with 5,103 cases in 2018, which makes up 42% of all types of child maltreatment.
This year’s report is a follow-up from a similar study done in 2015 and shows an almost $1.5 billion dollar increase in costs associated with child maltreatment to Alabama’s economy from $2.3 billion in 2015 to $3.7 billion in 2018.
The report suggests that one way to reduce the cost and raise the amount of worker productivity is to increase the state’s funding for the Children’s Trust Fund, which provides grants to various community programs to help stop child abuse and neglect.
Both state budgets are still being worked on in the Legislature during the final weeks of the regular session. The appropriation currently proposed for ADCANP for fiscal year 2022 is around $4.4 million, an increase of a little more than $500,000 from the current year.
Collins also assured lawmakers on Tuesday that the board she chairs carefully looks at all grants and their effectiveness in preventing child abuse in Alabama.
“This isn’t just willy-nilly do something, these are programs that make a difference,” Collins said.
COVID-caused decrease in abuse reports
Last year, Alabama Daily News reported that the number of child abuse and neglect reports to the state dropped significantly in the spring when the coronavirus outbreak abruptly closed schools and child care centers and fewer eyes were on children.
Information provided to ADN on Tuesday showed a total of 26,313 abuse and neglect reports to DHR in fiscal 2020, down from 28,470 in fiscal 2019.
And in the first three months of calendar 2021, there have been 6,726 reports. That’s down from 7,121 during the same three months in 2020 and 7,291 in 2019.
Prevention reports, taken when a child may be at risk of maltreatment but the situation doesn’t rise to the level of abuse or neglect, have also decreased in a similar pattern.
Dominic Binkley, a spokesman for DHR, said the department believes the decreases are due to fewer children being at school and in child care during the pandemic.
Sen. Clyde Chambliss recently filed Senate Bill 393 to require mandatory reporters, including teachers, daycare workers and medical professionals, to contact both DHR and local law enforcement.
“The hope there is that there’s not anybody that’s left in the cracks,” Chambliss, R-Prattville, told Alabama Daily News on Monday.
On Tuesday in the Senate Government Affairs Committee, Chambliss said he’d received several questions about his bill and delayed a vote.