Safeguarding Kids

West Virginians have joined the nation’s voices in demanding something be done about the safety of our children, in the wake of the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 of them, along with six adults, at a school in Connecticut.

Yet there has been no similar public outcry here in our state, where 16 children were murdered by abusers in 2011.

When a mass murder occurs, we tend to take notice and rightfully insist on action to prevent future massacres. But when the killing is done one by one, sometimes by the very parents who are supposed to cherish and protect children, the outcry is muted, if present at all.

That needs to change. We West Virginians should make it our top resolution this year to crack down on child abuse in our state.

Other states seem to have been able to do that. Child abuse and neglect reports have decreased nationwide during the past five years. The number of murders – the term we should be using – from child abuse was at a five-year low in 2011.

Here in West Virginia, 16 children died from abuse in 2011. That was the highest rate in the country, at 4.16 per 100,000 children.

Law enforcement agencies and the courts have made rescuing victims of child abuse a top priority. The number of child abuse and neglect cases that proceed to circuit courts has more than doubled during the past decade, to 3,354 in 2011. In some courts, child abuse and neglect cases approach half those with which judges deal, according to a published report.

It should come as no surprise that the drug abuse epidemic in our state plays a major role in the number of abused and neglected children. One circuit judge has said nearly 90 percent of the abuse and neglect cases in his court are linked to drug abuse.

Obviously, West Virginia needs to do more to curb use of illegal drugs and abuse of prescription medicines. The drug epidemic here has reached crisis proportions. The effects of drug abuse have been felt in all crime statistics.

But there is no excuse – none at all – for abusing or neglecting children. Adults who do it should be punished severely. Their little victims should be gotten out of abusive or neglectful homes and placed with caring adults.

West Virginia faces tough decisions involving state spending, education and a variety of other issues this year. State officials will have their hands full dealing with all the priorities on their plates.

But safeguarding our children should be at the very top of the list.