By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
The Bible says in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” I believe in the truth of that scripture, and over the next couple of months we will see where our state’s leadership is putting their hearts.
As the legislature returns for the second half of the legislative session, one of its top priorities will be to finish the state’s budgets. There are several critical programs that our state needs to fund, such as Medicaid, public schools, and the courts. But one department that should be a top priority for us is the Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention.
While there are several state funded and charitable programs that help families after neglect or abuse has occurred, the Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention is Alabama’s ONLY agency that tries to address the problem before it occurs.
The Department, created in 1983, established the Children’s Trust Fund to “provide annual funding of community based prevention programs throughout the state as well as create a self-sustaining pool of funds to provide for funding these programs in the future.”
This year, the Children’s Trust Fund is funding approximately 86 community-based child abuse prevention programs across the state. These programs include traditional anti-abuse programs targeting children in K-12, as well as fatherhood programs, mentoring programs for new moms, and many other valuable programs.
But all of these programs are at risk because of the budget that was passed out of the state senate.
Fortunately, it is not too late to save these critical programs. The budget can be changed when the state House of Representatives takes it up in the coming weeks, and I hope that my colleagues in the House will make it our first priority to restore funding for the Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention as well as the Department of Children’s Affairs, which lost all funding in the senate version of the budget.
Child abuse and neglect is a very real problem in Alabama, and we cannot afford to ignore it. In 2010 alone, 9,586 children were victims of abuse or neglect in Alabama. That’s about 8.5 out of every 1,000 children in Alabama. Of these children, 37.6% were neglected, 50.0% were physically abused, and 22.5% were sexually abused.
The problem hasn’t gotten much better in recent years. According to the Child Welfare League of America, Alabama had 20,159 total referrals for child abuse and neglect since 2010. Of those, 19,900 reports were referred for investigation.
We cannot turn our backs on these children! Our children’s safety, whether it is at school or at home, has to be our number one priority. If we cannot agree on that, then what in the world are we doing in Montgomery?
I encourage everyone who reads this to contact their local representatives and senators and ask them to support the Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention and the Department of Children’s Affairs. If we do not restore this funding, then we, too, are guilty of negligence. Making our children safer should be the legislature’s number one priority.
Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden. He has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2000. In 2010, Representative Ford was elected House Minority Leader by the House Democratic Caucus. He was re-elected Minority Leader in 2012.