Texas should focus sooner on preventing child abuse

In the debate over rising healthcare costs, medical experts often remind us how preventive care is more effective than treatment.

And in the state of Texas, the same should hold true when it comes to protecting and caring for our most vulnerable children.

According to a report by the state Protect Our Kids Commission (POK) released this week, the best way for Texas to reduce the number of child deaths from abuse and neglect is to invest heavily in programs that target high-risk situations and focus on prevention.

That seems logical, but Madeline McClure, CEO of Dallas-based TexProtects and a commission member, noted at an Austin news conference Wednesday that Child Protective Services spends a whopping $1.4 billion (including federal funds) each year on the “aftermath” of abuse.

In stark contrast, the state spends less than $60 million a year on preventions.

The tragic result is an average of 220 child deaths each year for the last decade — half involving children and perpetrators who were not even on the radar of the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS).

That’s a travesty, especially when children who are vulnerable to abuse are often easy to identify.

To that end, the POK recommends the state improve the way data is collected; streamline the medical report system; develop a better system for identifying risk factors for abuse, and expand home visitation programs for at-risk families.

Some of the POK’s proposals build on those suggested by the Sunset Advisory Commission, which called for dramatic changes to DFPS management and operations earlier this year.

It’s a given that the POK has called for increasing the prevention budget, and it makes sense that more resources should be directed to such forward-looking services. But understanding resource limitations, it also suggests that DFPS seek out alternative funding sources including federal and local government and private funding streams.

The ultimate goal is to prevent any and all child deaths resulting from abuse and neglect, an objective the commission claims will demand not only a significant financial commitment and statewide systemic changes, but “simple changes at the local level,” including watchful neighbors, teachers and doctors who suspect abuse may be occurring.

We all play a role in protecting vulnerable children. Making that investment personally and financially is well worth the cost.