Every day at Parenting Now! and Relief Nursery, we are rewarded by the success of a parent who nurtures and protects their child instead harming or putting them at risk, overcomes an obstacle, or makes a better decision when feeling frustrated or overwhelmed.
But there is still much work to be done.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, focusing our attention on the devastation of child abuse as well as on what we can do to help change the future for children and our community.
Lane County has one of the highest abuse and neglect rates in Oregon. While overall Oregon rates of abuse and neglect declined between 2013 and 2014, the rates in Lane County are virtually unchanged.
Child abuse cuts across all economic, social and educational backgrounds; life is tough for these children. Abuse and neglect can create lasting brain patterns that impact learning, memory and behavior, making success in school much more difficult. Research shows that child maltreatment haunts a child into adulthood and is at the root of many adult physical and mental illnesses, such as depression, obesity, problems with drugs and alcohol, and even linked to cancer and heart disease.
Society puts a lot of effort and resources into dealing with the results of abuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the annual economic impact of child abuse at $103.8 billion. Those costs include health care and medical costs for children and adults, criminal justice, child welfare and protective services, and special education programs. But none of those elements touch on the human suffering and loss of potential that can result from child maltreatment.
Many factors increase the risk of child abuse and neglect. Some are related to parents and families, others are related to the community and environment.
The presence of risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean a child is being abused; there are many examples of healthy, thriving children in families with very young parents, experiencing poverty or living in distressed and violent neighborhoods. But these risk factors make life more complicated and stressful. Furthermore, abusive patterns can repeat themselves as parents who were abused themselves may not have the knowledge or resources to try new ways to parent their own children.
What if we could stop abuse and neglect? What if we could prevent child abuse? What if we could help families thrive?
The Center for the Study of Social Policy has identified five protective factors that help support parents, decrease risk factors for abuse and create better futures for families. They are:
· Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development – through parenting education programs, sharing of information and providing resources to parents
· Concrete Support in Times of Need – helping parents get basic necessities and services
· Social and Emotional Competence of Children – helping parents form secure relationships with their child in a safe environment with clear expectations
· Supporting Parental Resiliency – support for parents in managing the stressors of daily life
· Increasing Social Connections – helping parents build trusting relationships and feel connected to friends, family members and neighbors who support them
These are the types of strategies that we as individuals and as a community can use to create a support network for all families.
In Lane County, there are many organizations, agencies, volunteers and others actively working to increase protective factors for families in our communities. We share the commitment to support, strengthen and educate families to prevent abuse and neglect so that children are nurtured and reach their maximum potential.
Parenting Now! serves all families with children under 8 years old. We help families find their best nurturing parenting styles, based on research-based methods that include learning about child development, how to manage stress and strengthen family attachments. We provide group-based parenting programs to promote social connections and enrich family life. We have drop-in playgroups and other programs to extend social opportunities and provide help when needed.
Relief Nursery serves low-income families with children under the age of six grappling with a multitude of challenges. Relief Nursery offers comprehensive programs, including parent education, mental health counseling, and drug and alcohol recovery support. The Therapeutic Early Childhood Program is at the core of Relief Nursery services and includes special education services for children who suffer developmental delays and social and emotional issues as a result of their unstable and chaotic environments.
Reducing the incidence of child abuse and neglect is a powerful goal. Prevention of child abuse is even more powerful. The support of agencies that support protective factors goes a long way in the creation of resilient children with the potential to build our common future.
Lynne Swartz is Executive Director at Parenting Now!, located at 86 Centennial Loop, Eugene or www.parentingnow.org. Minalee Saks is Founding Director Emerita of Birth To Three/Parenting Now! Kelly Sutherland is the Executive Director, Relief Nursery, Eugene and Springfield.
The views expressed in this guest blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the organization.