The true test of a virtuous society is how well it protects children from abuse. Any society that does not protect children from abuse condemns its children to lives of despair and dysfunction.

The American form of capitalism is the greatest economic system the world has ever known. It advances freedom like no other economic system has in the history of humanity. It has produced the highest standard of living known to mankind. The wealth-engine of America has helped improve the economic conditions of nations around the world. The more nations who adopt the American economic way, the more freedoms they will enjoy, with expanding opportunities for their people.

On the other hand, American capitalism is based on economic competition. With all competition, there are winners and losers. Too often economic competition creates losers of children.

Children are vulnerable and cannot compete. They depend on adults to compete for them and often the adults fail them. Frequently, this failure is intergenerational, subjecting children, who later become adults, to a continual cycle of poverty, ignorance and abuse, making them forever economically disadvantaged.

With this in mind, Utah policymakers should shift priorities, efforts and resources to the children in three areas where government is already involved. These three areas are welfare, education and abuse prevention. Adults within these areas capture too much of government attention and resources, leaving consideration for the children secondary.

For example, the state welfare system primarily focuses on adults and their economic wellbeing. It is assumed that if adults are economically sustained, the children will be as well. Unfortunately, that is not the case for those who are intergenerationally welfare dependent. It is a fact that generations of children have been subjected to poverty because of welfare policies that focus primarily on adults, with too little regard for children.

Well over 30 percent of the welfare cases in Utah are made up of families with at least two generations of children. If Utah's children will be rescued from the intergenerational welfare failures of adults, the state needs to change course with its interventions. Continuing the present welfare system, the state unwittingly enables intergenerational poverty, furthering the economic condemnation and victimization of Utah's children.

In the Utah education system there is far too much focus and debate about what is best for adults and not enough on what is best for children. While adults bicker, Utah children's education achievement has declined to 41st in the nation, at the same time America's education achievements, measured internationally, has fallen to 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math. In short, Utah is failing inside a failing national education system.

With these results, no one can argue that Utah's education policies and priorities are adequately focused on children. If Utah wants continual prosperity, its education policy priorities and resources need to better support the education interests and success of its children.

The true test of a virtuous society is how well it protects children from abuse. Any society that does not protect children from abuse condemns its children to lives of despair and dysfunction.

Utah ranks fifth among the worst states safeguarding children from abuse and neglect. It is very difficult for abused and neglected children to be healthy and whole enough to succeed in an economic system that demands the best of its participants.

Not protecting children from abuse is the worst of societal sins, resulting not only in the emotional and psychological destruction of children, but of society itself. Utah can and must do better protecting its children.

All of us should pledge our efforts to stop the intergenerational cycle of poverty, declining education achievement and further abuse of our most vulnerable children. We need to vigorously shift our public policies to advance the economic and education wellbeing of children, while increasing protections against abuse.

We have an obligation to help children, particularly disadvantage children, to effectively compete within American capitalism and earn the full freedoms and opportunities associated with it. Utah can and should be the shining example on how to best prepare children for their futures.

Utah Sen. Stuart Reid (R) represents Davis and Weber counties.