Last month I retired from a career in law enforcement that spanned over 30 years, including the last eight as chief of the Kirkland Police Department. I responded to all types of crimes during those years – including violent crime, domestic disturbances and the gamut of emergency situations that would shock people outside law enforcement. As a father and cop, those that haunt me the most are crimes against children.
Early in my career, my patrol partner and I responded to a complaint of loud music coming from an apartment. We pushed open the unlatched door and found a two-year-old, bruised, dirty and terrified. We thought she was abandoned in this filthy apartment littered with drug paraphernalia and empty alcohol bottles, until we discovered her father passed out in the bedroom.
We took the little girl to the police department. Social services placed her in a foster home until she could be reunited with her mother, from whom she had been abducted several month before.
The image of that little girl has stayed with me for over 20 years. Her physical wounds eventually healed, but what about the consequences of the psychological abuse and extreme neglect she experienced? Did those ever heal?
It’s cases like this “noise complaint” that make me want to speak out. Child abuse and neglect happen in every community – even Kirkland – and this problem impacts all of us, directly or indirectly, draining public resources both short and long term.
There is a short-term cost to taxpayers, primarily due to the cost of arrest, investigation, prosecution and incarceration of the perpetrator. Since many abused children end up needing health care and child welfare services, there are enormous costs to the health and human services system, including emergency room and trauma care and foster care placements.
For the long term, the suffering that child victims experience at the hands of abusers produces scars that stay with them for life. While most abused children do not grow up to be criminals, research shows that children who are abused are almost 30 percent more likely to commit violent crimes as adults, creating huge downstream costs for all of us.
We can and must do better by our kids. Voters in King County have the opportunity to do so by voting “yes” on Best Starts for Kids, Proposition 1 on the general election ballot. For about $1 per week for the average property owner in King County, it will fund important prevention and intervention programs to protect children and improve their chances for success in life.
One example is the Nurse-Family Partnership, a voluntary, high-quality home visiting program that has been proven to prevent child abuse and neglect.
This program pairs first-time, low-income young women with a registered nurse who provides coaching and information from pregnancy until the child’s second birthday.
Long-term studies show that children whose mothers were randomly selected to participate in the program were half as likely to be abused or neglected than those whose mothers did not receive the home visits. Children not in the program had more than twice as many criminal convictions by age 19 as those in families who received the visits. One site of the quality nurse home visitation program found significantly fewer cases of childhood injury and child mortality and improved child health among families who participated.
Some people will say that we cannot afford to make these investments. I say that doing nothing to break the cycle of abuse and neglect is actually more expensive because it leads to more criminal justice and social service costs. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Researchers at the Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that for every family served, the Nurse-Family Partnership generated around $19,000 in net benefits, including more than $11,000 in saving for taxpayers.
I urge voters in Kirkland and throughout King County to join me in voting “yes” on Proposition 1, Best Starts for Kids. It is an investment that will go a long way toward assuring safe communities in the future.