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A father of four, who had previously abused two young children, is finally imprisoned after he fractured his four-year-old son’s ribs, deliberately burned him, and left him permanently scarred from whippings.

A couple is sentenced to life in prison after leaving their nine-month-old twin daughters, who each weighed about eight pounds when investigators found them, to starve to death in playpens filled with maggots. The couple told authorities they felt overwhelmed taking care of the children with limited help while working long hours.

A parent and others are sentenced for abusing a five-year-old boy over the course of several months. They beat the boy so severely that he suffered two strokes and had multiple broken bones. He had been locked in a room, bound with duct tape over his eyes, beaten with belts and a hammer, and had been kicked in the genitals until he bled.

Parents are sentenced for torturing and killing their three-year-old, who died from blunt force trauma to the stomach. There was evidence they had previously used torture as punishment, as investigators found whip marks, cigarette burns, and fingernail gouges.

A mother is convicted of locking her special needs son in a bathroom for a year. He was found lying on a blanket, unable to use his legs because he was too weak.

A father is convicted of beating his child with two-by-four wooden boards, pipes, and dog leashes; on one occasion the boy spent eleven days in the hospital.

A mother is convicted of beating her five-year-old to death; the girl died from internal bleeding.

The list could go on for a very long time…

These are just a few of the endless stories of children, tortured and often killed by their own parents, in just the past year.

National statistics
, despite underreporting, show an estimate of  1,670 to 1740 children dying from abuse and neglect in the U.S. each year.

What if we could prevent these things from happening?

We can prevent these horrors by changing the way we plan families. Moving from a subjective and parent-first model to an objective and child-first family planning model is the necessary first step. Making that change involves 1) Understanding that our after-the-fact public child welfare systems are a failure; 2) Identifying the underlying issues that drive the problem; 3) Promoting judicial Fair Start court orders that move our society to take family planning seriously. In short, we, as a society, need to prove we are intent on actively preventing the torture and killing of children, rather than simply waiting around to react to it.

The Obvious Problem: A Pipeline from Poor Family Planning, to Abusive Homes, to Horrific State Systems

Studies link child abuse to poor family planning. That seems like an obvious connection. But rather than focus on interventions before parents have children, the go-to solution to all of the horror stories described above has been for the state to wait until a child has been repeatedly abused, put them into the public child welfare system, and prevent the abusive parents from having custody of any more children.

That solution, by itself, is obviously insufficient. Obviously, the children have already been abused, but also, state systems are a spiraling down failure as more and more children get shuffled into them.

Here are just a few examples:  

In Indiana judges have taken to the press, saying the state child protection system is drowning after the state director resigned saying that current state policies “all but ensure children will die.”

In Kentucky an oversight panel that reviews child abuse deaths and serious injuries is urging the state put more money into child protection services, saying its social service agency remains “grossly underfunded, under-resourced and understaffed.” The panel reviewed 59 cases of child deaths and 91 cases in which children nearly died from suspected abuse or neglect during 2016 alone.

An in-depth investigation in Arizona suggests the state and the foster-care system is itself a hotbed of abuse and neglect.

In North Carolina an investigation found that more than 120 children have died in the state within a year of their parents or caregivers being referred to a state agency; more than 30 of the children were killed by being beaten to death, shot, drowned, smothered, or poisoned by drugs. In many states, the abuse is compounded by homeschooling, which is used as means of hiding children from authorities.

The recent opioid crisis in the U.S. has only accelerated the problem. Foster care cases involving drug-using parents have hit the highest point in more than three decades of record-keeping, accounting for 92,000 children entering the system in 2016, according to data by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Underlying problem: A Debate About the Right to Have Children and Family Planning Models

In a landmark case, one state supreme court, faced with this unwinnable scenario, found a way out.

They approved as constitutional a court order preventing a recidivist defendant from having children until he was able to show that he was able to care for them. Sadly, not all of the justices on the court agreed. One said this: “Men and women in America are free to have children, as many as they desire. They may do so without the means to support the children and may later suffer legal consequences as a result of the inability to provide support.”

Is that right? Is it really the case that parents have no responsibility to be ready before they have kids? It doesn’t matter how many kids parents have, the impacts on the children and the community are irrelevant, and taxpayers should just continue to fund the cycle of abuse and failure described above?

Is that really what we believe?

In the next post, we will discuss the solution.

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