The government can fight crime in the future by funding programs that protect children today, according to a group of law-enforcement officials and victim advocates.

Children who are victims of abuse or neglect are far more likely than non-abused kids to become criminals as adults, according to a recent study by the non-profit, anti-crime organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. Yet research shows that most cases of child abuse and neglect among at-risk families can be prevented, the report claims.

The non-partisan group says each year of child abuse and neglect in the United States will produce 35,000 future violent criminals and 250 murderers.

“Children who survive abuse and neglect can be significantly injured,” Randell Alexander, director of the Center for Child Abuse at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta and an author of the report, told the Associated Press. “Many go on to hurt others. If you are born into a world of violence, you wire yourself for violence, not for peace.”

The organization said research shows that child abuse and neglect can be reduced by programs that enroll young children in pre-kindergarten and offer parenting skills to at-risk mothers. Many of these programs, however, are being targeted in budget cuts.

The biggest federal source of general funding for prevention of child abuse and neglect is the Social Services Block Grant, The program, which states can use to fund parenting coaching and other prevention efforts, has been cut 40 percent over the last four years.

Meanwhile, a study of a Chicago pre-kindergarten program for 3- and 4-year-olds emphasizing parental involvement showed child abuse and neglect was cut in half in participating families. But the federal government’s pre-kindergarten program, Head Start, remains so under funded that it leaves out four of every 10 children from poor families.

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids called on Congress to permanently restore the Social Service Block Grant to its authorized level of $2.8 billion, from its current level of $2.1 billion, and to provide an extra $8 billion a year to prevent abuse and neglect of children and an extra $15 billion a year for Head Start.

David Landefeld, district attorney for Fairfield County, Ohio, told the Associated Press that crime connected to child abuse costs Americans $50 billion a year.

The report also says the actual number of cases of abuse and neglect far exceeds the 900,000 confirmed cases and 1,300 deaths reported to the government annually. The group says the real toll is closer to 2.7 million cases and 2,000 deaths each year from child abuse and neglect.

“Congress can invest now in these proven programs and save millions of children from being beaten or neglected and prevent thousands of these children from being turned into criminals,” said Sanford Newman, president of the organization that claims to represent more than 2,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and victims of violence.

Polly Franks, a mother involved with Fight Crime, said in a news release that several children in her Richmond, Va., neighborhood were molested by chronic sex offender, Joseph Smith. Smith’s parents were alcoholics and his father abused him.

Franks said if better education programs for children and parents “keep one person from growing into a Joe Smith, or keep one child from being assaulted, beaten or killed, that’s where I want my tax money to go.”

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