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N.C. Opinions: Winston-Salem

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Toughen N.C. law against those who abuse children

From an editorial in Wednesday’s Winston-Salem Journal:

For many years, North Carolina lawmakers took a hands-off attitude regarding child abuse and neglect. Until the early 1980s, adults who abused and neglected children were punished only in the worst cases, and the punishment typically was not severe.

That’s changed, and if a bill moving through the state House now becomes law, then North Carolina will demonstrate that it is really serious about punishing those who abuse children.

The old mentality centered on the concept that parents owned their children and, therefore, could do pretty much as they pleased when it came to discipline. Thirty years ago, legislators pushed by child advocacy organizations threw out that reasoning.

The bill under discussion, sponsored by Rep. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover, has already passed a House judiciary committee. Now the budget committee must decide if the state can afford to get tougher on parents and caregivers who seriously injure a child under the age of 16.

We can’t think of a better way to spend state tax dollars than in fighting child abuse and neglect.

The bill focuses on punishment, raising the maximum sentence in such cases to 125 months in prison, almost double the current maximum. That sounds appropriate to us.

But we’d also like to see a bigger state effort made to prevent child abuse, to prevent the injuries to children and the prison sentences for the perpetrators. Any abuse that is prevented is far more favorable an outcome to society than is the locking away of a parent or caretaker.

Social workers have a good idea of who is likely to abuse children. Those who were abused as children become adults, far too often, who take the same kind of action. So, we’d like to see counseling programs that are aimed to break this cycle of abuse. We’d like to see educational efforts made to reach parents and caregivers in ways that will help them identify their potential for harming children.

Tougher sentencing and better prevention programs are needed in this state. Here’s hoping that legislators succeed on both approaches.

The views expressed in N.C. Opinions are not necessarily those of The Observer’s editorial board.
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