Child abuse takes economic toll

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 319 views 

The cheerful and colorful pinwheels placed throughout Northwest Arkansas every April remind passersby that child abuse still ravages young lives in the community. Each pinwheel represents a child who was abused during that year — in Benton County alone there were more than 400 pinwheels displayed in 2012.

Anyone who sees the scars, hears the stories and learns the facts of what abused children face have some small idea of the impact the abuse has on that child and that family. What is not apparent is the economic impact that the abuse has on society.

A recent study released by the Centers for Disease Control took a single year — fiscal year 2008 — and measured the economic impact of the child abuse cases that were reported just that year. The four types of child maltreatment are physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse and neglect.

During fiscal year 2008, child protective services at the federal, state and local levels had 3.3 million reports of child abuse or neglect with 772,000 confirmations of children being abused. A national study that was used to collect those figures estimates that 10.2% of the child population in 2008 was in some way abused or neglected.

The CDC study estimates that over the lifetime of those children, the costs associated with the abuse total $585 billion. Keep in mind, that’s just for the children proven to be harmed in 2008. Millions of children are reported abused annually, so the economic costs compounds every year.

Amy Benincosa, development coordinator at the Southern Region National Child Protection Training Center at NorthWest Arkansas Community College, speaks to groups throughout the region about the horrors of child abuse, including the economic impact on society.

“Most people are incredibly surprised,” she said. “So often we don’t necessarily think of child abuse in terms of the cost. We think of the child first and rightfully so. What we don’t think about is what happens to the economy because of that act of abuse, what that act is actually costing us as taxpayers.”

Amy Webb, spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, said there is an obvious and large economic impact from child abuse but that dollar figures are not the driving factor behind trying to stop child abuse.

“The safety of these kids is a priority. We want to protect them and that’s what we’re thinking about.”

The CDC study describes the primary reasons for estimating the costs associated with child abuse.

“Estimating the economic burden of (child abuse) is important for several reasons. Economic estimates can help to increase awareness of the current severity of (child abuse), place the problem in the context of other public health concerns; and may be used in economic evaluation of interventions to reduce or prevent (child abuse),” the study reads.

The most obvious costs come from prosecuting the abuser, treating the child’s immediate and ongoing related medical needs, and therapeutic care for the child.

Child abuse has been shown to have a myriad of lifelong adverse consequences for its survivors including: Behavioral problems, mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, increase in delinquency, adult criminal behavior, increased potential for violent behavior, increased risk of chronic diseases, lasting impact of physical disability caused by the abuse, reduced quality of life, and lower economic success of abuse victims.

The CDC study cited separate research that demonstrated that all of these are potential factors that could affect child abuse survivors.

“Given the high prevalence of (child abuse) and the many negative short- and long-term consequences of (child abuse), the economic costs may be substantial,” the CDC study concludes.

According to the CDC study, the estimated average lifetime cost per victim of non-fatal child abuse is $210,012 in 2010, as shown below:
• $32,648 in childhood health care costs;
• $10,530 in adult medical costs;
• $144,360 in productivity losses;
• $7,728 in child welfare costs;
• $6,747 in criminal justice costs; and
• $7,999 in special education costs.

The estimated average lifetime cost per death is $1.273 million, including $14,100 in medical costs and $1.259 million in productivity losses. Multiply each of those figures by the number of investigated cases of child abuse in 2008 and the $585 billion estimated figure is derived.

Stephanie Smith, Southern Regional director for the NCPTC, recently performed a cost calculation analysis for children abused in Arkansas using the 2006 confirmed cases. Her estimates project $362 million will be spent to care for those children throughout their lifetime. This includes 1,729 physical abuse cases, 109 emotional abuse cases, 2,400 sexual abuse cases and six “other” abuse cases.

“I think that this is a conservative number,” Smith said of the $362 million. “I wasn’t able to get (all the related costs) in to the estimate.”

The $362 million figure for Arkansas is broken down as follows:
• $25.29 million for acute medical treatment;
• $29.97 million for mental health treatment;
• $219.36 million for the child welfare system;
• $272,416 for law enforcement costs;
• $1.22 million for special education;
• $4.20 million for early intervention programs;
• $6.25 million for emergency/transitional housing;
• $3.15 million for mental health and health care;
• $25.16 million for juvenile delinquency; and
• $47.19 million for lost worker productivity.

What is not included in the above numbers is the amount of money spent on adult criminal justice that is caused by victims of childhood abuse.

Multiple agencies and organizations work together to stop child abuse in Arkansas including DHS, the NCPTC and child advocacy centers across the state. The focus for all of these groups is to help the children, but when the children are helped it also decreases the negative economic impact on the rest of society.

An ongoing campaign is working to raise money to fund a training center for the NCPTC. That center will be used to train law enforcement and other child advocates in detecting, treating and prosecuting child abuse cases.

Another major asset in Northwest Arkansas’ fight against child abuse is the Children’s Advocacy Center of Benton County.

According to a recent research study, the presence of a children’s advocacy center in a community helps streamline the process of treating child abuse victims, thus reducing the costs up to 45% compared to communities without a CAC, according to information from the CAC.

Beverly Engle, executive director, speaks passionately on the behalf of child abuse survivors. She shares stories of people who have battled depression, inability to pursue careers or healthy adult relationships and other major problems because they were abused as children. She also shares the happier stories—those who were able to overcome their circumstances to find success.

The Children’s Advocacy Center provides a comprehensive team of services from professionals including medical staff, trained interviewers and child mental health professionals. By providing assistance from adults who, first of all, believe the child’s story and secondly, help that child tell his or her story, the CAC is starting the healing process for that child.

“The child’s story is being validated and that’s huge,” Engle said.

The therapeutic interventions provided for the child help the victim learn to better deal with the abuse’s devastating impact, Engle said. She tells the story of a young man who received national attention for committing suicide after dealing with years of problems stemming from childhood abuse.

“(Abuse victims) never want to be defined by their story but if they carry that secret like this (young man) did, it defines them in the end.”

The CAC also raises money to help child abuse victims. Donors can give in any amount and the costs for certain services are broken down so potential donors can have a better understanding of how the money might be used.

For example, if someone wants to help provide a child snacks for a day, the suggested donation is $10. The highest figure on the card is the cost of a forensics exam at $350. Other direct costs include advocacy, counseling and interview costs.

“It’s a sad, sad thing when you see a child burned with cigarettes or sexually abused by a family member or friend. But there are few support networks for the children and their families which are often pulled apart by the allegations,” Engle said recently. “We just do what we can to help.”