Child abuse and neglect cases in our state are rising. We’re seeing this not because parents have decided to care less about their children, but because the supports that families rely on for stability are failing. Many parents do not have access to the protective factors that support us when life gets really, really stressful, or to cope with trauma from their own past, and their children suffer for these unmet needs. Families are less likely to suffer the effects of toxic stress when they can access supportive relationships, knowledge about child development and parenting, and concrete supports during times of need.
We can prevent the vast majority of situations of child abuse and neglect, but Michigan’s Legislature is at risk of missing another opportunity to change the game for child abuse in our state.
The Michigan Children’s Trust Fund (CTF) provides grants for evidence-based services and local councils that work to prevent child abuse and neglect before they occur. Some problems that drive child abuse rates, like the lack of quality mental health services, affordable housing, or protections for survivors of domestic violence, will involve investment and policy changes beyond the scope of the CTF. But for families who need respite care so they can attend an important job interview, or some peer support or education to improve their parenting skills, the programs supported by the Children’s Trust Fund can mean the difference between periods of stability and periods of extreme stress.
Today the CTF is in its worst financial position in some time. Its once-robust funding streams, which include a state income tax check-off donation and a special license plate with dedicated revenues and which were meant to simultaneously raise funds and raise awareness about prevention, are quite bare. Today, the CTF plate is one of 40 fundraising license plates for causes or organizations, and programs like TurboTax make it easy to bypass the choice to make a tax donation. As a result, these revenues through the state have fallen by nearly $1 million since 2000, and federal matching grant revenues have fallen accordingly. The current year budget saw the first increase of state funding for the CTF in some time, a total increase of $500,000 in General Funds to expand its programs, but because of further declines in other revenue sources, that increase was only enough to sustain CTF’s existing programs.
Leaders from both parties recently gathered for the annual CTF auction, an event known for its “bipartisan” spirit where legislators generously support the CTF from their own pocketbooks, but what the Legislature gives with one hand, they take with another. The Senate’s proposed FY20 budget eliminates about half of the CTF’s current funding increase, which was allocated at the end of last year as the hole in the CTF’s budget grew again, and the proposed budget in the House would cut the full $500,000 increase. A loss of that size would force severe cuts to direct service grants funded by the CTF, which include home visiting, mentorship programs, and body awareness classes that are evidence-based to prevent child abuse and neglect.
Supporting families isn’t rocket science, it’s brain science. We know that toxic stress affects people’s growth and behavior, and we know what can help prevent or mitigate family instability from toxic stress. The public’s need for, and potential benefit from, child abuse prevention far outweighs the money that an annual auction can take in.