To protect kids, treat parents' addiction, mental illness
The best predictor of children's risk of severe neglect and abuse is not poverty, writes Naomi Schaefer Riley in City Journal. It's drug abuse and mental illness.
Communities with high rates of people receiving disability payments also tend to have high rates of child maltreatment, a Texas study found. People under 65 who are disabled often have mental health or substance-abuse problems, says Dorothy Mandell, a professor of community health at the University of Texas. "Some go on disability for chronic mental health problems," some become depressed because they're disabled and "we can’t ignore the role of chronic injury and pain medication abuse,” she says.
Riley cites Nicholas Eberstadt on the link between disability benefits and the drug crisis. He writes:
“How did so many millions of un-working men, whose incomes are limited, manage en masse to afford a constant supply of pain medication? Oxycontin is not cheap. As [the book] Dreamland carefully explains, one main mechanism today has been the welfare state: more specifically, Medicaid, Uncle Sam’s means-tested health-benefits program. . . . ‘For a three-dollar Medicaid co-pay, therefore, addicts got pills priced at thousands of dollars, with the difference paid for by U.S. and state taxpayers.’ ”
Officially, 40 percent of children removed to foster care are because of substance abuse, writes Riley, but "most experts believe that the number is closer to 80 percent."
While poverty correlates with the risk of child maltreatment for older children, disability benefits were "overwhelmingly" the strongest correlation for all ages, the study found. "If a community is suffering from elevated substance abuse and mental illness, sending it more cash will not solve things," writes Riley. "Opening more rehab facilities may be more effective."