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For Children At Risk, Heed Stats And Work As A Team

Sun., Oct. 8, 1995

I love baseball.

I love baseball’s traditions, baseball’s rituals, baseball’s fascination with statistics - those stripes on the uniforms and the compulsive habits of the baseball players. I love to watch Jay Buhner finger his bat like a sax player right up until the pitch or watch the third base coach signal the runner to steal a base.

I love the rich literature of baseball. When I was in the fifth grade, I read all the baseball fiction in our neighborhood Houston Public Library. My favorites were “Highpockets” and “The Kid From Tomkinsville” by John R. Tunis.

In fact, I got the confidence to marry my husband and make this lifetime commitment because he, too, had read John R. Tunis as a child and had been challenged by the ethical dilemmas and zeal for justice portrayed in his sports stories.

I’m totally in favor of elected officials seeking a way to provide public funding for a stadium for the Mariners. I just wish these same elected officials would take more lessons from baseball when they establish law and policy affecting youth and families.

I wish they would note how exquisitely baseball managers use statistics for their decision making. Baseball is famous as the statistics sport - about each player, about each decision to use a relief pitcher, a designated hitter, a stolen base. There are data that support the wisdom and the likely consequences of each decision.

Now, contrast the way we make public policy and law about children and families. Instead of carefully studying the collective experience of the consequences of our current policies, we react to high-profile, highly visible situations that come to the attention of the media - no matter how typical or atypical they may be.

It’s interesting to reflect on the Mariners’ season - the fact that the “wildcard” possibility kept their hope alive and challenged them to succeed beyond their wildest imaginings to be not just a wildcard, but a division winner.

How many wildcard opportunities are we offering our youth? Do we give them many options for a second or third chance?

How much are we crafting our child-protection system to incorporate the knowledge gained from the careful and thorough child fatality reviews initiated by Dee Wilson, area manager for Spokane’s Child Protective Services?

Children who die from maltreatment are usually no older than 4. Half are under 1 year of age. Half are from neglectful families.

The profile of the person who fatally abuses a child is that of a young, impulsive, angry male who usually has a long history of violent acts, including abuse of animals, but does not necessarily have a criminal history.

He is not attached to the child he hurts. His female partner is usually financially and emotionally dependent on him and unable to believe the person she knows could commit this violent act. We need services to strengthen her as well as consequences for him. And vice versa, when the genders are the opposite.

Key conditions found in almost every case of fatal child abuse include poverty, chemical dependency and domestic violence.

Literally hundreds of families in our community match this profile, as do thousands in our state. Furthermore, no panel of experts, nationally or locally, can predict which of the at-risk families will have a child fatality. Consequently, we have no choice but to provide numerous services to all of the families we can possibly identify if we are to prevent child deaths from abuse.

National experts do agree that the most promising prevention strategies include home visiting to all new parents, child care, and parenting education, preferably before people become parents.

It’s time that we realize Child Protective Services doesn’t have the resources to do the job alone. It’s time for our entire community - every person - to step up to the plate and go to bat for the safety of our children and families.

Sure, let’s build that Mariners stadium (though I’d like to see a requirement that admission prices be kept to family scale if public tax dollars are the cornerstone of the financing).

And let’s build our child protection system with as much attention to the statistics we have on what works.

Let’s refuse to lose our kids.


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