An Increased Budget for the Protection of Our Children

An Increased Budget for the Protection of Our Children

An Increased Budget for the Protection of Our Children

Last month, thanks to the courageous leadership of several state legislators, the West Virginia legislature passed a budget that included $200,000.00 in additional funding for the creation/operation of child advocacy centers (CACs) throughout West Virginia. For those who are unfamiliar, CACs provide support, therapy and protection for victims of child abuse in our state. Here in the Wheeling/Moundsville area, we are fortunate to have our own CAC, Harmony House, which serves children in various surrounding counties as well. The purpose of the proposed funding increase was, among other things, to provide for the creation of CACs in counties in which such centers do not currently exist, thus frequently leaving abused children with no source of assistance and treatment.

When the budget proposal reached his desk, Gov. Tomblin was confronted with what was as close to an impossible decision as I can imagine. The proposed budget, including the CAC funding increase, required a dip into the WV "Rainy Day Fund" in order to achieve the constitutionally-mandated balance. Gov. Tomblin was concerned - and rightly so - that the amount to be taken from the Rainy Day Fund was too great. His only option to reduce the amount taken from the Fund was to make the difficult decision to veto some of the proposed budget allocations. Thus, several agencies suffered significant cuts to their projected budgets. Sadly, the $200,000.00 earmarked for CACs was cut.

As is always the case when budgets are cut, lots of folks were unhappy. Some argued that women's and children's causes were disproportionately victimized by the cuts, and leaders/supporters of those causes wanted to know why. Jim Justice, the billionaire whose Greenbrier resort is the beneficiary of a multi-million dollar tax credit to aid tourism, was quoted as saying there is "nothing negative" about the investment, citing the multiplier effect of tourism dollars. While I too believe that tourism investment is positive for our state, I would argue that there's also "nothing negative" about preventing child abuse.

There's certainly "nothing negative" about providing a 6-year-old boy a shelter where he won't be beaten every night. And there's "nothing negative" about making a grade-school girl feel safe enough to tell that she has been molested for the last five years. But there's more.

One of the largest and most important, yet often overlooked, public health studies of our time, the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), concluded: what happens to you when you are a child has a direct impact on your health as an adult. The ACE Study surveyed adults for the number of adverse childhood experiences they had endured (child sexual abuse, domestic violence in the home, etc.) and looked at their current health condition. What the study found is a correlating relationship: for each additional adverse experience the individual had, there was an increased likelihood for most major chronic health problems-heart disease, chronic lung disease, liver disease, cancer, and diabetes. The same data suggests a strong correlating relationship between ACEs and mental health diagnoses, substance abuse, and behavioral problems. In fact, an individual with 4 or more ACEs has a reduced life expectancy of 20 years.

Studies analyzing the impact of child abuse on adult economic well-being claim maltreatment may impede earning capacities by about $5,000 per year. Another recent CDC study estimated the lifetime cost of child maltreatment at $201,012 per victim. This includes costs for childhood and adult medical care, productivity loss, child welfare, criminal justice, and special education. West Virginia Child Protective Services identified 22,830 victims of child abuse in the last 5 years. Using the CDC's estimates, this equates to a total cost of 4.5 BILLION dollars just for victims identified in the last five years, a price tag greater than this year's entire general revenue budget.

And yet there is hope. In West Virginia there are evidence-based programs that prevent child abuse, such as in-home family education. And we have programs that identify abuse when it occurs and provide evidence-based treatment that helps children heal. But these are the same programs for which the Governor pulled out his red pen-Child Advocacy Centers, Domestic Violence Programs, In-Home Family Education, Family Resource Networks and the Children's Trust Fund.

Think about this multiplier effect: children who grow up in homes free from abuse then become adults with less substance abuse issues, fewer major health problems, and less criminal behaviors. Our state saves on Medicaid, the corrections system, and substance abuse treatment. And we have more productive members of our workforce, providing more tax revenue to the state. That's a multiplier effect our State can believe in-true justice reinvestment-there's "nothing negative" about that.

Fortunately, our lawmakers are sometimes afforded the opportunity to reconsider their budgetary decisions. In the case of the CAC funding cuts, the legislature met in special session earlier this month and overwhelmingly voted to pass a budget which restored the previously-vetoed funding. This time, when the proposed budget reached the Governor's desk, he signed it.

The job of the Governor is a difficult one, particularly when it comes to budget time. No one is happy when their budget is cut, or when their cause is denied a desperately-needed funding increase. Our Governor should be commended for having the courage to reconsider his earlier veto. History has shown that Governor Tomblin does his best to act in the best interest of all of the citizens of West Virginia. Sometimes, doing so requires that he prioritize budgetary requests. Nothing should be a higher priority in West Virginia than protecting our children. In restoring CAC funding to the levels originally proposed, the Legislature and Governor Tomblin have confirmed that fact. I applaud their actions.