April is our national “Child Abuse Prevention” (CAP) month. This is truly a meritorious focus since children are our most valuable resource. When our children grow up Safe and Healthy, there is an 85% chance that they will become positive contributors to society, and not consumers of public resources. Let’s face it, child abuse and neglect is unconscionable and produces severe damage through the trauma impact on the children who’ve been victimized. The research is abundantly clear regarding the negative impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) and the damage it produces throughout the lifetime of its victims. Anyone unfamiliar with ACE research needs only to Google the subject to discover the vast array of articles, literature and discussions on ACEs impact.
Child abuse is horrible, but it is also preventable. Prevent Child Abuse America is a wonderful organization, offering resources for abuse prevention and treatment. Borrowing from their philosophical framework, I would like to present a strategy for effective Child Abuse Prevention.
First, Child Abuse Prevention is a community responsibility. Community members need to be mobilized, educated and brought together to keep kids safe. A community could be a neighborhood, a city, a targeted region, or even a large extended family where there are shared interests, concerns, values and commonalities. Child abuse prevention must be embraced as a community priority. It should not be viewed as the responsibility of “government” or some outside authority – every community member plays an important role in Child Abuse Prevention. The goal of every community must be to establish a safe, healthy community environment where kids can flourish and grow.
Second, Child Abuse Prevention requires an investment of time, resources, energy, and especially commitment. I am an avid gardener and I know what it takes to nurture a seed into a glorious plant or flower. It takes work and effort; enjoyable, productive work! How much more valuable are our children? They must be nurtured, protected and guided towards healthy adulthood. Parents raising children need resources, ongoing support, assistance, guidance and encouragement. Parents should never be forced to “parent” in a vacuum. It is a community’s responsibility to ensure resources are available and that community members are connected to those resources. We are our “brother’s keeper” when it comes to raising children. When we see a need, we need to address it. When we sense a problem or trouble, we need to find solutions. Whenever there is an opportunity to help, we need to seize it!
Third, Child Abuse Prevention must be based on What Works! There is so much excellent science and proven practices to ensure that children can grow up safely and healthy. We need to trust the research and employ the very best practices, interventions, and prevention strategies. Communities need to be educated about this and understand the value of what is available to help our kids grow up safe and healthy. We know what good parent education is. We know what resources are the most effective for solving problems. We know how important Family Resource Centers are in being a hub for family strengthening and support. We know the best strategies for early identification and prevention. We know how to intervene early in potential abuse cases from a nonpunitive, supportive, and strengths-based approach. We know what works effectively for Child Abuse Prevention, now we just need to do it!
Fourth, growing Safe and Healthy Kids requires a fair degree of Innovation and Imagination, driven by the community. Every community has its own characteristics, idiosyncrasies, attributes and strengths. Communities need to be taught how to innovate and creatively create their own unique nurturing, safe and healthy approach to making sure that their children can thrive and flourish. Home grown solutions are the best solutions. What works in one location may not work in another. Sometimes it takes trial and error and experimentation. The beauty of this, the creative genius of a community can produce a wonderful benefit for its children!
Fifth, Child Abuse Prevention must be Planned. None of this is going to happen without good strong community leadership, planning, and a sincere effort to create safe, healthy environments for our children. It is absolutely necessary to coalesce community leaders, stakeholders, government officials, and most especially families to work together to plan safe communities. Diverse opinion, philosophies and perspectives must be heard and embraced. There will be differences which need to be navigated towards consensus and agreement. Determinations must be made about what is “publicly funded” and what can be community derived and supported. The goal is to leverage resources to maximum effect and benefit. This is where Innovation and Imagination play a key role. Again, it is about communities embracing the opportunity to create a healthy, safe environment where kids can grow and flourish.
Sixth, effective Child Abuse Prevention requires Flexibility and Adaption. What works now may not always work. We have recessions, pandemics, social upheaval and many other unpredictable influences that can have a serious impact on a community’s stability. Also, there are always new strategies, interventions and practices that emerge that are more effective. Thus, it is imperative to have a commitment to continue the community-driven planning and innovation process; always looking to maintain the most healthy community conditions for protecting and nurturing children. Change is inevitable; effectively managing that change is essential!
Seventh, the entire process of Growing Healthy and Safe Kids must be permeated and fed with HOPE! Using my gardener analogy, it is essential that I feed my plants regularly to keep them healthy, thriving and productive. It is a community’s responsibility to make sure parents have whatever they need to nurture their children and meet their physical needs. But the best “fertilizer” for a healthy, safe community is instilling Hope for a successful future. Hopefulness and a pervasive “I can do it” attitude can become a community mantra. A key component of Child Abuse Prevention is a community which instills families and parents with HOPE, so they can instill that same HOPE in their children.
Child Abuse can--and should--be prevented. Let us all work together to create healthy, safe communities and environments where our children can grow up to become strong, productive adults.