By Rush L. Russell, Executive Director, Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Some people turn away from the topic of “child abuse”, believing it’s something that only happens somewhere else and is the fault of “bad” parents. And many others recognize the extent and harm caused by child abuse, but don’t truly believe we can do anything to prevent it.
On all counts, the facts suggest otherwise:
- One major common denominator found in most cases of child abuse is overwhelming stress that can come with being a parent. Like it or not, it just comes with the job. For parents out there – raise your hand — how many of you have found raising your kids to be stressful–sometimes causing extreme frustration, anger and creating problems for your marriage, other children, or other family members? Parenting is magical but also stressful and parents need support, education and patience to navigate the inevitable challenges they will face.
- Factors that can increase parents’ stress include a child’s health or mental health issues, alcohol or substance abuse problems, or just a lack of knowledge about how to deal with a child’s challenging behaviors. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/child-maltreatment These issues exist in every community in New Jersey, small and large, across all 21 counties of our state.
- A powerful public health study, the Adverse Childhood Experience Study (ACES) found – to paraphrase – that bad things that happen to children early in their lives increase the risk for other bad things happening to them as adults, including school failure, alcohol and drug problems, involvement in crime, chronic health problems, marital problems and even suicide.
- That same ACE study found that two-thirds of Americans have experienced at least one form of child trauma, which includes child abuse and other events that betray the trust children have in those charged with providing them care, love and support.
- Studies show that our failure to prevent child abuse costs American taxpayers more than $124B each year — costs for investigations, foster care, law enforcement, health and social services, and lost productivity resulting from child abuse.
- Research confirms that we can prevent child abuse before it ever happens. Programs like Healthy Families and Parents As Teachers have been designated as “evidence-based” because there is more than 25 years of rigorous research showing they improve a wide range of child health and developmental outcomes … and prevent abuse. We can prevent shaken-baby syndrome by providing information in the hospital to parents about the stress caused by a crying baby…and tips for parents.
- The budget for the NJ Department of Children and Families (DCF) is more than $1.1 billion, with the overwhelming majority allocated to efforts to help children after abuse has happened. A very small percentage of these resources support prevention.
Day after day, we read about stories in the media about tragic cases of child abuse and the long-term damage it causes for children for the rest of their lives. Recently more than a dozen adult survivors of child sexual abuse testified emotionally in the NJ Senate about how sexual abuse, experienced during childhood, had devastated their lives. Next time you read about any case of child abuse, we need to ask, what could have been done to prevent it? We have answers that can make a difference.
New Jersey’s Commissioner of DCF, Christine Norbut-Beyer, is a champion for prevention and is identifying creative new strategies that can build a brighter future for children in our state, before abuse ever happens. One of the most fundamental responsibilities for all of our society’s adults is to protect children from harm. Everyone can play a role to create a safe, stable and nurturing environment for our children – and prevent any child from experiencing abuse.
For more information, about how to raise awareness or take action, please visit our website: www.preventchildabusenj.org.