In today’s world, people are well aware of the physical and emotional toll child abuse exacts on its victims. Long after bruises fade and broken bones heal, children who’ve been abused may suffer post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, have problems trusting others and setting boundaries, and face increased risk of substance abuse and various health problems. The more adverse childhood experiences a child endures, the greater his risk of a difficult, unhealthy adulthood.

Thankfully, treatment can mitigate the long-term risks. Therapists at Family & Children’s Services use evidence-based treatments proven to be most effective in restoring children’s well-being after traumatic events. The treatments – Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Child-Parent Psychotherapy and Parent-Child Interaction Therapy – strengthen vulnerable families and help children heal from the trauma they’ve suffered and gain new safety skills.

Family & Children’s Services began its Child Abuse and Trauma Services program nearly 31 years ago. Patient outcomes prove the program’s value to our community. Eighty percent of young abuse victims who complete treatment at Family & Children’s Services exhibit improved emotional stability. Eighty percent behave better and can function with more ease in social settings. Eighty-five percent of families report improved parent-child relationships after treatment.

Therapy is vital to improving the outlook for mistreated children but comprises a very small part of the cost of a community’s response to child abuse. Medical care, court services, out-of-home placement and other support for abused children come with a high price tag. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published earlier this year in Child Abuse and Neglect, The International Journal details the full impact. The information is eye-opening and sobering even for someone who’s worked with child abuse for 38 years.

In 2008, the year researchers analyzed, there were 579,000 confirmed, non-fatal cases of child maltreatment in the U.S. Another 1,740 children were killed by their abusers. The total cost associated with these cases – including expenses for medical care, criminal justice proceedings, child welfare services, special education and lost productivity – totals an estimated $124 billion. It breaks down to $210,012 for each abuse survivor and $1.3 million for each child killed.

So what’s the impact here at home? The Oklahoma Department of Human Services investigated 61,327 allegations of child abuse and neglect in 2008. Investigators substantiated 11,714 children as victims of maltreatment, and 41 children were killed. We can’t put a price on the lives of these children, but we can put a price on the abuse they suffered: $2.5 billion.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time to talk in clear terms about the scope of child abuse and strategies for protecting our youth. Lend an ear or a helping hand to an overburdened family. Let others know help for parents is available from Family & Children’s Services and other community resources. Report suspected cases of child abuse. Each one of us has not only a moral duty but a legal obligation, codified by Oklahoma statute, to notify authorities if we think a child is being abused. The obligation exists regardless of whether we know and love the child in question. To report suspected child abuse, call the OKDHS Abuse and Neglect Hotline, available 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week, at 1-800-522-3511.

Abusing and neglecting those who need our protection damages lives, is illegal and – as researchers have now demonstrated – fiscally irresponsible. For so many reasons, Oklahoma can’t afford to mistreat its youth.