April is Child Abuse Prevention month. Child abuse was not a recognized legal concept in this country until the late 1800s; the early cases were brought by animal rights groups that expanded the concept from animals to children. Child abuse laws balance the obligation of the state to protect children and the rights of parents to raise and discipline their children. The social cost of child abuse is visible in our schools, courts and prisons; it also tends to repeat generation after generation unless the cycle of abuse is broken.
Years ago children were raised in stable families, in stable communities, often surrounded by grandparents and aunts and uncles. Parenting advice was shared “over the fence” or at the kitchen table. Parents had a trusted support system. Life has changed since then; families move more often, divorce occurs more frequently, and all the adults are working. There is no more kitchen table support. Family Resource Centers in New Hampshire offer all families, at all stages and levels of need, a place to gather, learn and share. They are the new kitchen table.
Prevention is the best hope for reducing child abuse and neglect and improving the lives of children and families. Strengthening families and preventing child abuse requires a shared commitment of individuals and organizations in every community.
The term “prevention” is typically used to represent activities that stop an action or behavior. It can also be used to represent activities that promote a positive action or behavior. Research has found that successful child abuse interventions must both reduce risk factors and promote protective factors to ensure the well-being of children and families.
Protective factors are conditions in families and communities that, when present, increase the health and well-being of children and families. They are attributes that serve as buffers, helping parents who might otherwise be at risk of abusing their children to find resources, supports, or coping strategies that allow them to parent effectively, even under stress.
The research on child abuse reduction is clear; build protective factors in families and not only will child abuse and neglect be reduced, but families will be able to raise healthy functioning children who are more likely to be successful in school and life. Parent educators generally agree on six broad areas of protective factors:
- Nurturing and Attachment
- Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development
- Parental Resilience
- Social Connections
- Concrete Supports of Parents
- Social and Emotional Competence of Children
Families with these factors in place have an understanding of what their children need, and equally important they know how to take care of themselves and to seek help for themselves or their family.
The impact of child maltreatment can be profound. Research shows that child maltreatment is associated with adverse health and mental health outcomes in children and families, and those negative effects can last a lifetime. In addition to the impact on the child, child abuse and neglect affect various systems — including physical and mental health, law enforcement, judicial and public social services, and nonprofit agencies as they respond to the incident and support the victims. One analysis of the immediate and long-term economic impact of child abuse and neglect suggests that child maltreatment costs the nation as much as $258 million each day, or approximately $124 billion each year.
This is an issue that must not be talked about for only one month each year. It must be part of the discussion of healthy child development all year long. Dr. Jack P. Shonkoff, Director of the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University, explains in this video why we all have a stake in the healthy development of every child.
GROWING UP GRANITE
This is The Week of the Young Child. The Week of the Young Child is an annual celebration hosted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) celebrating early learning, young children, their teachers and families.
Because Every Child Matters in NH is dedicated to ensuring that all children, including our youngest, have what they need to grow up healthy, safe, and well-educated, we will be co-hosting a Twitter Chat this Thursday at Noon on the relationship between business and quality early learning. Our guests will be NHAEYC President, Jessica Sugrue and Grappone Automotive Group owner, Amanda Grappone Osmer.
And then hop on over to check out the newly launched Every Child Matters website! I think you’ll love our new look, new resources, and easier to navigate site. Spend some time on the site and then please let me know what you think.