Preventing child abuse is a community task

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 12, 2009

By Rosemarie “Rosie” G. Allen
For the Salisbury Post
RALEIGH ó Growing healthy, happy kids is not just about having healthy, happy kids today; it is about building a healthier, more prosperous, more successful North Carolina for us all. As we look for ways to ensure that children have the opportunity for success, communities must work together through both proven strategies and individual action to prevent child abuse and neglect.
For years, communities and agencies like ours focused almost entirely on interventions – responding to child abuse after it had already occurred. Those interventions are still critical. But, science now shows us we must employ prevention alongside those interventions if we are to create prosperous communities.
We are responding to an urgent call: A growing body of research proves that experiences in childhood build the architecture of a child’s brain and lay the foundation for a child’s future. Furthermore, the poisoning, toxic stress of abuse and neglect impairs this brain development causing lifelong health, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral problems.
The most comprehensive research to date, the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES), was released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and private insurer Kaiser Permanente in 2005. The ACE Study links child abuse to short and long term consequences including a lack of achievement and behavioral problems in school; heart, lung and liver disease; obesity and diabetes; depression, anxiety disorders, and increased suicide attempts; increased criminal behaviors, illicit drug use and alcohol abuse; and increased promiscuity and unintended pregnancies.
So, when we prevent abuse, we are creating healthier children now, as well as creating a better community down the road ń one with fewer incarcerations, instances of abusive behaviors, and unintended pregnancies; one with less heart disease, liver disease and obesity; and one with more caring, contributing adults.
Fortunately, science has also proven that child abuse is preventable. And, just as child abuse is a community problem, prevention is a community task.
In many ways, prevention is simple. It is as simple as creating a community that supports parents as they do their most difficult and most critical job. Prevention is as simple as creating family-friendly workplaces; formal and informal networks of support; places where all parents can build skills. It is as simple as reaching out to a parent you know with a kind word, a stress-reducing offer to help out or babysit; or an acknowledgement of the difficulty of the job at hand.
Our communities also have tools like family-strengthening programs that are proven to prevent abuse. Programs like The North Carolina Nurse-Family Partnership Initiative, the Incredible Years and Circle of Parents are already working with parents to help them develop parenting skills, build networks of support, and create healthy, nurturing homes in which they will raise healthy, prepared children.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, the perfect time to make a community commitment to give all children a chance for a prosperous, successful future.
Our children are growing. How they grow is up to all of us. When you support children and families by reaching out, by advocating for family-strengthening programs in your community, and by helping spread awareness, you are ensuring that today’s children are healthy and have the opportunity to lead our state and community to a great future.
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Rosie Allen is president and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina. She previously served as executive director of Smart Start Rowan.