Recently, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita compared gender-affirming health care to child abuse.

In my career as the head of SCAN, I saw child abuse.

Has Rokita ever seen the legs of a 2-year-old after they’ve been used to snuff out cigarette butts? Has he seen a 5-year-old living in an infested home with bedbug bites from head to toe? Has he seen an elementary school child whose private parts are covered in bruises and tears because she has been repeatedly sexually violated? Or an infant with that blank look in his eyes because he has been shaken so hard that there is brain damage and he can no longer see?

That is child abuse: physical violence, sexual assault, cooking meth instead of food in the kitchen, giving anyone who wants access to your child’s body. Child abuse seriously endangers the child’s physical and/or mental health.

How could health care recommended by the American Pediatric Association and the American Medical Association be child abuse?

Withholding essential lifesaving medical treatment is child abuse. Rokita has it backward.

Not only does the pediatric association recommend this health care, but the AMA has stated, “Transgender children, like all children, have the best chance to thrive when they are supported and can obtain the health care they need.”

They further advise that studies show that gender-affirming health care “dramatically reduces the risks of suicide.”

In 2022, a National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health by State was issued. The statistics for Indiana cited in the Trevor Project show that in Indiana 54% of transgender, nonbinary youth consider suicide and 19% attempt suicide. Nationally, the American Academy of Pediatricians tells us that 56% of youth who identified as transgender reported thinking about suicide, and 31% reported previous attempts.

Sitting on the Allen County Child Protective Team this past year, I have reviewed cases in which children and adolescents have died. It is always tragic. The review always leaves me with the question, “What could we have done differently that might have saved this child?”

All of us who have children or care about children can imagine the pain. Why are our representatives putting our children more at risk instead of doing everything possible to stop the tragedy?

Our attorney general and legislators suggest we just need to assure that these youth receive mental health services (as long as they’re not gender-affirming). Our state’s mental health system is already in crisis with a shortage of providers. The Trevor Project report indicated that 61% of transgender and nonbinary Hoosier youth could not access mental health services.

Starting in puberty, hormone blocking therapy is the recommended medical treatment, along with psychological care. No one is recommending surgery for youth.

What would you do if your child were at danger of dying by suicide and the law said you could not obtain the medical treatment to protect them from that death? Why do you have the right to make medical decisions of every kind for your child except for gender-affirming care?

Are you supposed to accept that the attorney general, who is not a doctor and doesn’t even know your child, knows best? Do you honestly believe the legislators ignoring medical science and pushing Senate Bill 480 to bar doctors in Indiana from providing gender-affirming care know better than parents what is right for their child?

Lawmakers who ignore the uniqueness of each child assuming all children are (or should be) the same seriously endanger the physical and mental health of our transgender children. We have a duty to care for these children.

Instead, our attorney general and legislators are targeting them and depriving them of recommended medical treatment, guaranteeing they will be further isolated, marginalized, bullied and traumatized.

Whom will Rokita blame when more transgender children die? What will he tell the loving parents who sought care for their child, only to find that the health care their child desperately needed was outlawed in the state of Indiana?

Criminalizing the care these children need is the real child abuse.

Rachel Tobin-Smith is a retired executive of SCAN, Inc. with 33 years working in the field of child abuse and neglect.