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Abused Kids More Likely to Turn to Crime

May 6, 2003

By JONATHAN D. SALANT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Children who are abused or neglected are far more likely to become criminals as adults, according to a study released Monday by an organization of police chiefs, prosecutors and crime victims.

The report by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids recommends more money for pre-kindergarten programs and parenting classes, saying the cost will be offset later when children who might have been burdens on society grow up to be upstanding citizens.

“Children who survive abuse and neglect can be significantly injured,” said one of the report’s authors, Dr. Randell Alexander, director of the Center for Child Abuse at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. “Many go on to hurt others. If you are born into a world of violence, you wire yourself for violence, not for peace.”

Using various federal data and academic and advocacy group studies, researchers said child abuse and neglect is vastly underreported. The 900,000 cases reported annually by the Health and Human Services Department may be only one-third of the actual total, the report said.

The report cited a study published in 2000 by Dr. Cathy Spatz Widom, a professor of criminal justice and psychology at the State University of New York at Albany, that found individuals who had been abused or neglected as youngsters were 29 percent more likely to become violent criminals than other children.

Using that estimate, researchers said 36,000 of the 900,000 children cited in the HHS report will become violent criminals when they reach adulthood, including 250 who will become murderers.

The report’s authors include four local prosecutors and two sheriffs. They said the findings illustrate the need for more federal funds for pre-kindergarten programs and parenting classes for families considered high-risk for child abuse, primarily those on welfare or headed by high school dropouts.

The 1996 welfare overhaul bill earmarked $2.8 billion for the states under a social services block grant, but congressional Republicans cut funding to $1.7 billion in the current budget year.

David Landefeld, the Republican district attorney for Fairfield County, Ohio, said crime connected to child abuse costs Americans $50 billion a year – 50 times the amount of money cut from the social services block grant.

HHS officials said it was up to Congress to decide whether to provide the money.

In Elmira, N.Y., a parenting program for single, poor mothers reduced incidents of child abuse or neglect to one-fifth of what they had been. In Chicago, a combination of parenting classes and pre-kindergarten cut cases of abuse and neglect in half, according to the report.

“It is possible to prevent child abuse and neglect instead of waiting for the next horror story to occur,” said Brooklyn, N.Y., District Attorney Charles Hynes.

Brendina Tobias of Newport News, Va., is a social worker whose son was killed in New York in 1993 while walking to a restaurant to get food for his elderly grandmother. The murderers had been neglected as children and learned to take whatever they wanted to survive, Tobias said.

“Abuse and neglect can be prevented,” Tobias said. “Maybe my son would still be alive.”

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On the Net:

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids

Widom study

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