Prevent Child Abuse has been one of the Florida Sheriffs' highest priorities for a number of years. As the nation celebrates "Prevent Child Abuse" month in April, the Florida Sheriffs Association re-affirms their commitment to the issue. In addition to supporting organizations that help prevent abuse, such as Health Families, Sheriffs and FSA Executive Director Steve Casey have made public appearances to keep the spotlight on the growing problem as well as solutions.
FSA President, Hamilton County Sheriff J. Harrell Reid authored a guest column recently titled:
"Preventing Child Abuse Top Law Enforcement Priority"
Published by Florida Today, Monday, April 11, 2011
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. During my two terms on Florida's Medical Examiners Commission and more than three decades in law enforcement, I have witnessed the horrors of child abuse all too often. As a professional and as a parent, I find the increasing rate of child abuse in our communities frustrating and sad, especially because there is an effective solution for preventing these needless tragedies.
Healthy Families Florida is a nationally accredited home visiting program proven to prevent child abuse and neglect in high-risk families. The program's most recent performance report shows 98 percent of children in families served were free from abuse both during and 12 months following services.
Healthy Families participants are typically low-income single parents with less than a high school education. They lack parenting skills, have little knowledge of healthy child development and have experienced a variety of difficult circumstances that place their children at increased risk of abuse.
These vulnerable parents voluntarily accept Healthy Families services because they want to be good parents; they just need someone to show them how. Healthy Families empowers them to build on their strengths so they can overcome serious obstacles to providing safe, loving homes and becoming responsible, self-sufficient members of their communities.
Child abuse is a crime that costs us all dearly, in both human and economic terms. Victims of child abuse are more likely to drop out of school, become teen parents, abuse drugs, suffer from mental illness and chronic health problems, and engage in criminal activities.
Conservative estimates put the price tag for child welfare, health care, special education, and juvenile justice costs associated with serving a single abused child at more than $64,000 a year. Healthy Families Florida prevents child abuse for less than $1,700 a year per child, a fraction of the cost of serving victims after abuse occurs.
By preventing child abuse and neglect, not only do we spare children from the lasting trauma of abuse, we also break the cycle of violence in our communities, reduce the significant burden on law enforcement and save taxpayers millions of dollars.
Our legislators are currently hard at work preparing our state's budget for the coming fiscal year. While they are moving in the right direction with their current allocations for Healthy Families, more remains to be done. The Florida Sheriffs Association has officially endorsed maintaining the current funding of $18.1 million for Healthy Families Florida, because preventing child abuse is the right thing to do for our children and the fiscally responsible thing to do for all Florida taxpayers.
J. Harrell Reid, president of the Florida Sheriffs Association, has been sheriff of Hamilton County for 23 years.