The Cost of Child Abuse and Neglect
By Candy Yoder
Are you one of those shoppers who look for bargains? Do you head for the clearance rack in the department store? Before trying on that new dress or pair of jeans, does it have to pass the “cost test”?
Most of us are very cost conscious as we shop. Sales and special deals are advertised in fliers and signs in stores. In fact, some stores seem to have continual “best deal” sales. I have some very organized friends who take great advantage of sales; they develop complex systems for using coupons that result in phenomenal savings. Cost awareness is a way of life for most of us.
The Cost of Child Abuse
Have you ever considered the price tag of child abuse and neglect? Most readers probably have not. Child abuse is usually a private story, taking place behind closed doors without any public awareness. When the media tells a child abuse story, it usually is about a horrific incident that incites the readers and leaves us feeling overwhelmed and helpless.
But there is another way to understand the impact of child abuse. Advances in the world of science have given us new information and an understanding about the effects of child abuse and neglect. With the tools available today, scientists are able to study how the brain develops and the interconnections between environment, brain chemicals and the overall health and development of children.
During the first three years of life, the brain undergoes its most dramatic development. The basic architecture of the brain is constructed through a process that is influenced by both genetics and interaction with the environment. This early process literally shapes the physical architecture of the brain and results in either a fragile or sturdy foundation for all the future health, learning and behavior that follows. Our brains can certainly reorganize and adapt later, even as adults, but it is very clear that it is easier and more effective to influence a baby’s developing brain architecture than to rewire parts of the brain later in life.
According to the Center of the Developing Child at Harvard University, if the early years of a child’s life are full of chronic, unrelenting stress – without adults to serve as buffers for that stress – the shape and stability of the brain’s architecture is negatively impacted. Children who live in these toxic environments literally experience damage in their brains because of stress chemicals which stunt cell growth. This leads to an exaggerated stress response that weakens their defense system against later illness, from heart disease to diabetes and depression.
Early life experiences are literally built into our bodies. Responsible citizenship, economic productivity, and physical and mental health is laid early in life. Specifically, according to the CDC’s Strategic Directions on Child Maltreatment, the foundation for academic achievement, that foundation is created through safe, stable and nurturing relationships.
The cost of child abuse and neglect includes weakened brain architecture and a weakened defense system against diseases. Ultimately this leads to a weakened society, with costly expenditures for special education, foster care, juvenile corrections, counseling, health care and much more.
When children are raised in the context of safe, stable and nurturing relationships, there is no room for abuse and neglect. There is no place for toxic stress to exist. Children are able to thrive and develop to their full potential. This is the environment we want for the children of our community.
Viewed in this way services for children are investments. Instead of paying the cost of child abuse, let’s advocate for safe, stable, nurturing environments for all the children.