The Last Line of Defense for the Most Vulnerable Among Us

There are millions of vulnerable children in America for whom we in the Congress are the last line of defense. These are abused and neglected children who through no fault of their own have been cast out, or worse. It’s hard to imagine that anyone would harm a child, but it happens every day in America. Protecting these children is one of my most important priorities, and I’m proud that we were able to do some good this week.

Working together with Republican Subcommittee Chairman Wally Herger, we passed the Child and Family Services Improvement Act. Mr. Herger and I often speak in opposition on issues, but we spoke as one voice in support of strengthening safeguards for these vulnerable children. I’d like to think we forgot about party labels for a brief moment, and remembered that we can work together for the common good of America.

The legislation contains a number of important provisions, not the least of which is to recognize and support caseworkers at the State level who are the nation’s first responders in what I see as a rescue mission: identifying vulnerable children and getting them help before they are harmed, or hurt more. We require a standard level of visits and better equip caseworkers with the tools they need to succeed. As a medical doctor and child psychiatrist, all of my training has left me at a loss to explain why some adults would hurt a child for any reason. But children are harmed and neglected, and we must intercede.

The new legislation is a step in the right direction, but we must not think that we have solved the problem. Let me give one example. We don’t do nearly enough to assist kids aging out of foster care. Those closest to these children know better than anyone that an 18 year old foster child does not have the same opportunity for success as every other young person in America, and that’s just wrong. While we can and should be proud of passing the Child and Family Services Improvement Act, we cannot forget that we are the last line of defense for vulnerable children; we are the difference between hope and despair.