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New Mexico State University

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NMSU specialists present seminar on child abuse to legislators

SANTA FE - It costs at least $94 billion every year to ease the physical and emotional damage inflicted by rampant child abuse in the U.S., according to a new study presented to New Mexican officials in Santa Fe.



Patricia Sandau-Beckler, NMSU professor of social work, told legislators and government officials that the rate of child abuse in New Mexico is much higher than other states. New Mexico had 10,000 confirmed cases of abuse in 2004, or 19 cases for every 1,000 children, compared with a national rate of 12.4 incidents per 1,000 children. (NMSU photo by J. Victor Espinoza)


"As a nation, we're paying $258 million every day to deal with the problems caused by child abuse and neglect," said study author Suzette Fromm Reed. "That amounts to about $1,462 per year for every family in the U.S. We're all paying for it, and that makes it everybody's business, whether you have children or not."

Reed, a professor of psychology and social science at National-Louis University in Chicago, was one of three speakers at a workshop analyzing the costs of child abuse and the policies to deal with the problem. The audience included about 20 state legislators and representatives of cabinet-level departments and state agencies.

Organized by New Mexico State University, the workshop was the second in a series of planned "Family Impact Seminars" that aim to educate lawmakers and government officials about the effect state policies have on New Mexico families. The seminars, held annually during the legislative session, cover the pros and cons of state policies from a family perspective, said Bruce Jacobs, a health specialist with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service.

"We want to provide unbiased, research-based information to legislators and high-ranking executive officials about laws and practices that have the most potential to help families," Jacobs said. "We chose to focus on child abuse this year because it's an urgent topic that is very much on the legislative agenda."

NMSU President Michael Martin said the issue is critical. "The governor has dubbed this the 'Year of the Child,' so it's a very appropriate topic," Martin said. "We need to be concerned about how we raise and care for our children."

Last year, the seminar covered domestic violence.

Nationally the direct cost of child abuse is $24.4 billion annually, Reed said, including expenses for hospitalization and ongoing healthcare for victims, as well as law enforcement and judicial costs. She said another $69.6 billion is spent on long-term needs, such as special education for abused children, mental healthcare, and costs to manage juvenile delinquency and adult criminality triggered by child abuse.

There are no specific cost estimates for New Mexico. But Patricia Sandau-Beckler, an NMSU professor of social work, said that the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department documented nearly 10,000 cases of abuse in 2004.

"That adds up to about 19 cases of child maltreatment for every 1,000 children in New Mexico," Sandau-Beckler said. "That's much higher than the national rate of 12.4 cases per 1,000 children."

David Zielinski of Duke University's Center for Child and Family Policy advised legislators to reinforce preventive education, such as parenting programs that teach nurturing skills to prenatal mothers and families with infants. Zielinski said the most effective programs include home visits to at-risk families by nurses and social workers.

"Prevention spending can save a lot in the long-term," Zielinski said.

The seminar made an impression on policy makers. After attending the workshop, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) said he will propose funding for statewide home visitations by nurses and social workers.

Ronald Voorhees, chief medical officer for the New Mexico Department of Health, said he will initiate a cost analysis of child abuse in New Mexico similar to Reed's survey.

And, Sen. Steve Komadina (R-Corrales) said he will share the workshop presentations with members of the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee to lobby for preventive programs in New Mexico.

NMSU also facilitated a roundtable discussion about child abuse on Jan. 26 for cabinet officials and state agency representatives. "It provided a forum for officials to review interagency collaboration," said Charolette Collins, an Extension specialist.

The seminars are modeled on the University of Wisconsin's Policy Institute for Family Impact Seminars, which has offered workshops to policy-makers since 1989. Given the Wisconsin program's success, NMSU decided to recreate the seminars in New Mexico, said Martha Archuleta, interim head of family and consumer sciences.

Future seminars could cover Medicaid, drunken driving laws and pre-kindergarten and after-school programs, Archuleta said.

"Lawmakers routinely examine the environmental, economic and community impact of policies, but the whole notion of family impact is new," Archuleta said. "We should consider family impact in all areas of policy making."