Bush Budget Leaves Kids Behind

President Bush may pride himself on claiming that he's a compassionate conservative -- one who pledged during his campaign to leave no child behind -- but Alan Brenner doesn't see it that way, especially when it comes to providing adequate funding to investigate child abuse.

Brenner, 57, is a former detective with the Bronx District Attorney's office who specialized in child abuse cases. He was amazed to learn that Bush has proposed significant cuts to child aid programs as part of his upcoming budget, including an 18 percent reduction in programs dealing with child abuse.

"Society has always had its head in the sand when it comes to child abuse," said Brenner. "The attitude was always 'just take care of it, we don't want to hear about it. Lock the bad guys up and make it all go away.'" But, he points out, child abuse is not a problem that will go away by itself.

According to Robert Pear of the New York Times, spending for programs to investigate and prevent child abuse are slated to be reduced by $15.7 million under the Bush administration. On April 2, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that "child protective service agencies received approximately 2,974,000 referrals of possible maltreatment in 1999. Of the 60.4 percent of these reports that were investigated, states found that there were an estimated 826,000 children who were victims of abuse and/or neglect."

Brenner's front-line experience leads him to believe that more resources are necessary to combat child abuse. Although Brenner has left the Bronx for Pennsylvania, he still investigates child abuse. Today he works with the Lehigh County Children and Youth Services, where he does initial child abuse interviews for case workers. Each case worker for Lehigh County handles about 45 cases, but can only reasonably handle 30 at a time.

Brenner recently investigated a complaint and was responsible for removing a two-year-old child from a home with a 21 year-old single mother who was a drug addict. When he entered the apartment, it was in shambles, and the child was sleeping on a mattress on the floor. The child was burned severely in three places, as if struck with a hot poker, and only a band-aid was on the oozing wounds. It was obvious that no attempt had been made to provide the child with immediate care.

"I see this kind of thing all the time," Brenner said. "Whether it's in the big city or the rural countryside, child abuse is still widespread, and it's more hard core than the public can imagine."

President Bush made much of his concern for children during the campaign. His budget proposals, however, don't match his electioneering rhetoric. Last year Congress provided $2 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant to enable states to provide day care for 241,000 additional children. Evidence suggests that stable child care for low income families has proven successful in helping individuals move from welfare dependence to work.

Does Bush propose maintaining or increasing day care subsidies? Not at all. In fact, Bush plans to cut child care grants by $200 million. Furthermore, the budget proposal eliminates all the money -- $20 million -- that Congress provided for an "early learning fund" to improve the quality of child care and education for children under the age of five.

Brenner knows firsthand the importance of quality child care. He was a driving force in the investigations that rocked New York City in 1984 with the arrests of several workers at two day care centers in the Bronx. The joint investigation between the District Attorney's office and the FBI gained national media attention after it was determined that a total of 39 children may have been abused at the day care centers.

As a result of the high profile investigation, New York required all potential day care workers to be checked against a state register of child abusers, and permitted background checks for other criminal offenses. At the same time, legislation was enacted that allows children to testify about sex cases via video tape rather than in person before a grand jury.

Brenner says for anyone who "has ever been involved with interacting and questioning a young child who has been abused, the idea of cutting funds for preventive programs would never come up. You'd look at those kids and wonder how anyone could take advantage of someone so vulnerable and defenseless."

The Republican administration has defended the budget's cuts by pointing to an increase in education spending. When President Bush addressed Congress on February 27, he stated, "Education is my top priority and, by supporting this budget, you'll make it yours."

But his budget proposals slow growth in education spending. Although the budget requests more money for education, the increase is only 3 percent over the inflation rate. And, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Bush's proposal is "one-third the average rate of increase in education spending over the past four years, after adjusting for inflation. Thus, the area the president has identified as his highest priority -- education -- would have its recent rate of growth reduced by two-thirds."

Budget cuts in these areas -- at a time when resources and staff are already strained -- seem inconceivable to Brenner. But, then again, Brenner doesn't claim to be a compassionate conservative.

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