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Worth Every Penny

September 04, 1993

Re: Aug. 17, Column One, "Parents Get Ounce of Prevention" by Shari Roan.

I am pleased to see attention paid to preventive services for families at risk of abusing or neglecting their children.

Ms. Roan states that it costs $2,000 to merely do an investigation of alleged abuse. The cost of not preventing this harm to our children is only now beginning to emerge. The actual cost for treatment of a family caught in the cycle of abuse is much, much greater.

Consider the costs of incarceration of young offenders in the California Youth Authority: 90% of the wards at the Ventura School report child abuse. Add to these expenses the cost of medical care for the injured children; the cost of special education classrooms for children who are neurologically damaged; the cost of a judicial system to handle family and criminal cases, and we have a huge expense. These costs, however, seem insignificant compared to the faces of suffering children who could have been spared misery had their family received preventive services.

CAAN, Child Abuse And Neglect, Inc., in Ventura County is proud to be one of the 22 nationwide programs which are modeled after Hawaii's initiative. CAAN's 18 years of experience as the only private nonprofit agency in Ventura County exclusively dedicated to providing prevention, intervention and treatment services to children and families has repeatedly shown that the sooner we can reach families, the better chance they have to live violence-free.

Still, important questions do exist. Importing the Hawaii model for CAAN's pilot project has presented us with the opportunity to evaluate the model based on California's rich ethnic diversity. What changes need to be made for the program to be effective in monolingual non-English speaking communities? Do currently used assessment tools translate into another language? What modifications must be made for California's very mobile populations? What impact does Hawaii's universally available health care system have on the success of their programs?

Many complex questions must be answered before child abuse prevention professionals call for the screening of every California family with a newborn child. It is the task of programs like CAAN's to find the answers to these questions. The California Legislature will ultimately decide if the price of prevention of child abuse and neglect is worth the investment. Common sense and a moral imperative say that it is.

DON HENNIGER

Ventura

Don Henniger is executive director of CAAN Inc.

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