An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Most of us are familiar with this old saying and it makes perfect sense doesn’t it? It’s so much cheaper and so much less trouble to address an issue early before it becomes a full-blown problem. Yet, most of us tend to put off that “preventive” sort of work. It is easy to say, “Oh, it’s just a tiny leak. I really don’t want to spend the money getting a roofer out here right now,” or “I’ll get that shot later. I’m just so busy right now.” But before we know it, that leak is a gaping hole in the roof and a ceiling that needs to be re-plastered and re-painted. That missed shot becomes missed work as we lie flat on our back feeling awful and have new medical bills to pay. Yes … an ounce prevention is really worth a pound of cure.

The same holds true for families. Many problems and challenges arise during the parenting journey and “an ounce of prevention” leads to much better results. Yet — like fixing the roof — we have a bunch of reasons why we shouldn’t reach out for help. We say, “I’m too busy” or “I’ll feel funny talking about our personal issues with someone else.” Like fixing the roof early, we save ourselves time and money … and we save our families much pain by addressing problems sooner rather than later.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and a time for us to be aware about the benefits — and financial implications — of abuse prevention. But first, let’s consider the costs of not addressing problems. If families do not address challenges that put them at risk, child abuse or neglect can occur and then children are hurt. That hurt impacts their school experiences, health, self-confidence and causes them great emotional pain. This is especially true when children must be removed from their homes. It is the children who leave all with which they are familiar — their homes, their rooms, their pets and often their schools — and move in with strangers (as loving and wonderful as those foster parents are). The parents of these children suffer too — they carry guilt, self-anger, hurt, worry. Most work very hard to address the issues that led to the removal, often leading to loss of jobs and more bills as they try to juggle all the requirements, appointments, etc. to fix the issues that led to their children being removed. There is hurt and damage all around. Financially, there are implications for our state and community as well. It costs a minimum of $9,000 a year for one child to be in a family foster home for 52 weeks. The costs can be much more depending on the type of home or special needs of the children. This doesn’t include court costs, attorney fees, case manager salaries, counseling services, medical care, supervised visitation services, missed work time for parents and foster parents, and the long term needs as families, parents and children struggle with the impact of abuse/neglect. This is too large a bill to pay emotionally and financially.

Contrast that to prevention services. Though costs vary depending on the agency and program, most prevention services tend to be cost-effective. As an example, the Exchange Club Family Resource Center can provide 52 weeks of in-home parent education, life skills training and support services for the entire family for only $3,200. There are other benefits as well … no need for court or attorney services, DFCS often ends up closing their case as families engage in services, missed work time is minimal. While there may still be need for other services to surround the family with support (e.g. counseling or substance abuse recovery), the emotional, physical and financial impacts on the family and our community are greatly reduced. There is much less hurt and the potential exists for transformation within the family. As much as I hate to talk about the very human issue of abuse and neglect through a financial lens, it paints a picture about the “ounce of prevention” statement. It helps us to truly see the power of early investment in families.

Our community does indeed invest in prevention and family support services. We support homeless shelters, in-home parent education programs, domestic violence shelters and support services, counseling programs, advocacy programs, parent education services, support groups, mental health education and support programs, clothing and food resources, substance abuse recovery programs, education programs to prevent violence and a host of other services. The agencies are too many to name here but you can glimpse a small portion of them by visiting floyd.gafcp.org.

We should be proud of this as a community, but even with all the activity currently going on, I sense a shift … and it is a powerful and good shift. There is an underlying energy and excitement about addressing the core issues that make children and families vulnerable. There seems to be decreased stigma toward families who reach out for help. There are more agencies and volunteers and community members working together to serve families. It’s exciting to see the kindness and wisdom of our community members working together to prevent abuse and help other people. And it is clear … an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Tina Bartleson is the executive director of the Exchange Club Family Resource Center, which provides in-home parent education and mentoring to families with children 0-12 years. She has 29 years experience working with families and may be contacted through www.exchangeclubfrc.org.