In 2003, the child abuse and neglect rate in Oregon was virtually identical to the United States average. And yet, 10 years later, Oregon’s rate had declined by only 2% while the national average had decreased by 25%.
Oregon’s lack of progress on reducing its child abuse and neglect rate is especially troubling given the growing consensus that early abuse, neglect, and trauma have lifelong consequences. Moreover, as can be seen in the chart below by ZERO TO THREE, the foundations of later brain development are built within the first year of life — when abuse and neglect rates are the highest. The rapid, critical brain development that occurs early in life paired with both the high rates of abuse and neglect at this age and the lifelong consequences of such maltreatment make early interventions especially important.
Luckily, as discussed in our most recent Progress Report, programs backed by rigorous research have demonstrated proven success in providing resources to parents and reducing rates of child abuse and neglect. Home visiting programs, which hire trained professionals to visit new parents in their home and help build positive, nurturing parental relationships, have been shown to save at least $2 in future spending for every $1 invested in the programs. These savings accrue through a number of benefits, including reduced child injury rates, increased cognitive development, and even lower rates of incarceration.
Yet, despite the overwhelming research proving the effectiveness of home visiting programs, Oregon leaves such programs critically underfunded. In fact, evidence-based home visiting programs reach only 15% of Oregon children in the most need. This legislative session there is an effort to increase the reach of these programs by allocating an additional $10 million to Healthy Families Oregon, one of the state’s evidence-based home visiting programs for young children. The issue will be considered in the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Education this Wednesday as part of the Early Learning Division’s budget request. In the short-term, this $10 million is critical to reaching the 1,100 children currently turned away due to a lack of funding — and in the long-term, is critical to helping reduce Oregon’s child abuse and neglect rate. With funding for Healthy Families Oregon under consideration this week, the only question is whether the state will invest in prevention or wait to deal with the problem until the full emotional, physical, and fiscal costs of abuse and neglect are felt.