As law enforcement leaders, we are trained to deal with all sorts of crimes, including those that end in death. Even with our training, we are haunted by those crimes that involve the death of an innocent child.

Such was the case in the death of Damien Christopher Lynn on Feb. 23. While much of the news focused on the multi-state FBI manhunt to find and arrest the man who lived in Damien’s home and who has been accused of Damien’s murder, the face that stays with us is that of the innocent 15-month-old Bangor toddler.

We also see the faces of the five Maine children under the age of 3 who died in 2009 at the hands of adults charged with their care. Every officer involved in a case ending in a child’s death never forgets that child’s face.

Compounding each of these terrible tragedies is that fact that, while we know that most children who survive child abuse and neglect go on to live normal lives, abused kids are more likely than other children to grow up to be violent and commit crimes.

Research, and our own experience, also tells us that abused children are more likely to be abusive parents.

Worse yet is the fact that there are programs to help prevent abuse and neglect, but only a small percentage of families are served by them. Programs called “home visiting” are the best prevention tools to break the cycle of abuse and future crime.

Such programs help protect kids from abuse through voluntary home-visits where a trained professional teaches parents to be better informed parents.

With this parent coaching model, home visits start while the mother is pregnant, helping parents understand what will happen when their baby comes home.

Parents learn to physically and emotionally nurture their child. They also learn how to deal with frustrations that could turn into abuse if left unchecked. Questions that may seem so simple to many of us are often far from routine for many young parents, especially those who lack a familial support network.

According to the 2010 Kids’ Count Report by the Maine Children’s Alliance, in 2008 there were 4,095 cases of substantiated child abuse and neglect victims in Maine.

Law enforcement leaders know that there are thousands of additional incidents of abuse and neglect each year that go unreported and undetected.

In addition, in the past two years the number of shaken baby cases at Maine’s largest hospital, Maine Medical Center, has tripled.

Research indicates that 4 percent to 5 percent of children who are abused or neglected, or about 165 to 200 children from the 4,095 abuse and neglect cases in 2008, will become violent criminals as adults who otherwise would have avoided such crimes if not for the abuse and neglect they endured.

Year after year, abuse and neglect creates more violent criminals in Maine.

As adults, these serious criminals will spend the bulk of their adult lives in our correctional system and we all pay that price. It costs taxpayers $2.5 million per inmate when that person spends the majority of his or her life in prison.

We applaud Gov. Baldacci for bringing public attention to this issue by declaring April Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month in Maine. We also thank Public Safety Commissioner Anne Jordan, Chief of the State Police Patrick Fleming and the Maine State Troopers Association for sponsoring a troopers’ relay race across Maine to draw attention to this serious problem.

We thank the staffs of all the local Child Abuse and Neglect Councils who do the critical home visiting work throughout Maine to help parents make their homes healthier and safer.

We are also pleased that Congress recently enacted the first-ever federal grants to states to help fund more home visits for the most vulnerable parents. Currently, with very limited funding, Maine serves less than 20 percent of mothers who need this intervention.

With new federal funding, Maine’s home visiting programs will be able to expand and such expansion should help reduce child abuse and neglect.

Preventing abuse and neglect will spare thousands of our children from pain, agony and despair, and save lives. It is not just the right thing to do; it is a proven way to cut future crime.