Tuesday, August 12, 2008

When money is tight, kids should come first

Our View: Foster care needs crucial
Cuts are going to be made, but we must demand that foster children are first in the process.

Merced Sun-Star, Aug. 6, 2008.

"If I have just one can of beans in the pantry, my kids are going to eat."

Ed Howard, a children's advocate who works with the University of San Diego School of Law, puts California's budget priorities in a simple way that reflects the thinking of all responsible parents. When money's tight at home, the kids come first.

And so it should be when we set priorities for spending our money in the lean, mean years -- like this one. Bluntly, adults are big people who can take care of themselves. Even children with parents have someone who will sacrifice for them.

But the neediest of the needy are the state's 77,000 foster children, who have no one but us to look out for their well-being. They don't have a union; they cannot vote; there are no prime-time commercials on TV pressuring legislators not to cut their funding.

When children are so mistreated that they must be removed from their homes and placed in foster care, it is us, the residents of California, who become their parents.

Morally, we cannot ignore their cries when they are being neglected, assaulted, exploited or abused by their parents. We must investigate their cases, help their parents to step up. If their folks will not or cannot do so, we must find loving foster care and then assume responsibility for food, clothing, shelter, health care and education.

Just in Merced County, there are 635 foster children who have been placed with families.

It is well documented that foster children often bear the scars of early maltreatment for a lifetime. They are more likely to suffer poor health; to experience relationship problems; to engage in alcohol and drug abuse, become pregnant as teens; to become juvenile delinquents, adult criminals and have abusive or violent behavior.

If we don't want to act out of compassion, look at pure numbers: We pay for those problems later. In the United States, Prevent Child Abuse America puts total annual costs of child abuse and neglect at more than $103.7 billion.

We are fortunate that awareness in the Legislature is rising; Assembly Speaker Karen Bass has been a tireless educator and advocate for foster children.

We're all tired of the steady parade of people yelling at the Legislature: Don't cut me! Not me! Not us! Through all the deal making, we must demand that the Legislature put foster children first.

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