Three children died in South Carolina within the past week of child abuse. In May, our community was rocked by the senseless and violent deaths of four children in less than two weeks as a result of child abuse. These are the cases that make headlines, but there are thousands of other children in South Carolina who are at high risk for similar deaths or injuries.
An editorial this spring charged that the Department of Social Services had failed in its efforts to protect children. In truth, there is not enough money, staff or foster care homes to fully protect all the children in South Carolina who are at risk. Children are at risk for abuse and neglect in every county, every neighborhood. Child abuse crosses every socioeconomic, racial and ethnic line. The fault is not DSS's alone. It is mine. It is yours. Why are we not outraged at these deaths?
Today, as I sat in yet another meeting of child advocates, I became more and more outraged that there is so little attention paid to these deaths. No task force, no agency, no committee and, certainly, no individual seems to feel responsible for speaking out for the children who are at risk of harm or death by child abuse. As a community and as a state, we absolutely must start doing something about child abuse. Child abuse is not a private family matter. Whenever a child is abused, the long-term consequences have a direct impact on us all.
We have an epidemic.
Are you worried about the swine flu? Most of us are. But in South Carolina each year more than 11,000 children are confirmed as victims of child abuse. Will the swine flu affect that many children? Probably not. On Oct. 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 11 children have died nationwide of swine flu since April. In South Carolina alone during that period, we have had more than 15 children die of child abuse. Child abuse is second only to asthma as a chronic childhood condition. The number of incidents exceeds that of autism, juvenile diabetes and birth defects.
If you are not compelled to action simply by the tragic deaths of children, consider the costs of child abuse. At any given time in South Carolina, there are approximately 7,500 children in foster care. Taxpayers spend more than $11,000 annually on every child placed in standard foster care. The cost of therapeutic foster care is approximately $32,000 per child.
Recent studies indicate that child abuse increases the risk of lower academic achievement and problematic school performance. Children who are abused are more likely to engage in violent behavior, juvenile delinquency and adult criminal activities. Other studies have found maltreated children to be at increased risk for a variety of adolescent problems, including teen pregnancy, drug use and mental health problems.
In 2007, Prevent Child Abuse America conservatively estimated the national cost of child abuse to be approximately $103 billion annually. The long-term impact and cost of child abuse is staggering, and we, as taxpayers, are footing the bill.
Consider this a call to action. One lone voice will not be heard. When a crowd screams for change, their collective voices are hard to ignore. Let's tell our state leaders we want real change for children in South Carolina. As taxpayers, we want our dollars to be an investment in the future of vulnerable children. We want state budgets that support family strengthening and child protection efforts. Then, even in these difficult times, find a way to help support local agencies that advocate for strong families and safe children.
Children need to be our first priority in South Carolina, not an afterthought. Let's all speak up for children. Let us honor the children whose lives have been lost by giving meaning to their deaths.