First Published in the Albany Times Union
Every metropolitan area in New York state has recently reported stories of children slain, raped, battered and abandoned. Research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention proves all child abuse forever mars children’s lives. The root of most violence, from bullying to mass shootings, is lack of empathy. The seeds of empathy are rooted in us as babies, but they can be beaten or raped out of us, they can be choked from horror or wither from neglect.
We have known how to prevent most child abuse for the last 40 years. Giving new parents the skills and support to fix their own lives and to nurture their babies works and pays huge dividends. Maternal Home Visiting programs that support new mothers, like Healthy Families New York, focus on protecting children rather than focusing on punishing criminals, when it’s too late and much more costly.
Currently, a fraction of eligible mothers are getting Maternal Home Visits. Look at Healthy Families New York, which sees just 3 percent of all Medicaid births statewide. This implies we don’t care about children’s pain until it becomes a headline. New York’s legislators must increase funding for programs like Healthy Families New York so that 100 percent of eligible mothers have access to them. This investment will demonstrate that supporting mothers in the beginning of their child’s life can help to prevent future abuse and neglect and transform communities.
Of course we are outraged when children are murdered, abandoned, disfigured or raped, but until we are doing everything we can to prevent abuse from starting, we cannot be surprised the damaged are violent when the powerful don’t protect them.