So today, during National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we’re starting a series of blog posts taking a look at prevention, and what we can each do in our own community to help keep children and families healthy, safe, and together.
The majority of children we serve have not been physically abused. According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Data Book, over 75% of the confirmed allegations in 2014 were cases of neglect. Neglect of children can often be a symptom of other stressors on families – substance abuse or addiction, teen parenting, poverty, mental illness, general lack of parenting education and so much more.
Abuse may stem from these stressors as well. No parent is immune to the challenges of a baby crying uncontrollably in the middle of the night. Untreated mental illness can disrupt judgment on how to treat a child. Parenting is tough and, at times, it can push people (and their ability to cope) to the very limits, which can then lead to situations where abuse or neglect arises.
To prevent this, we need to build supportive communities who can help families thrive from the very beginning, or rally around them in times of need.
Families in crisis often isolate themselves. It’s not easy to tell someone you cannot put food on the table, or that you got so stressed out by your children the other day that you felt on the verge of hitting them. These are difficult things to admit, yet can also be shared experiences.
Perhaps one of the biggest things we can do to start preventing child abuse and neglect is to push back against that isolation by changing the conversation around it. We need to break the stigma that makes it hard to talk about some of the most intimate difficulties of raising children. We need to start discussions with family, friends, in churches and other community groups, and in online networks about the honest challenges of being a parent – and, mostly importantly, how we can help and support one another. And we need these discussions happening in every neighborhood across our city, state and country.
We need to eliminate the feeling of shame that comes with struggling to parent and making mistakes, so that people can get the support they need before something serious happens.
Wouldn’t it be better if someone whose paycheck had to go to their kid’s medicine instead of groceries this week could approach their neighbors or fellow churchgoers and openly talk about their struggles? Can you imagine a community that positively embraces that mother or father and offers to bring meals for the week so they won’t have to worry about feeding their kids in this time of need?
And for that parent who felt a kneejerk reaction to hit their child during that stressful moment… shouldn’t they be able to call a friend or family member and admit they’re feeling strained right now and ask for help? Someone who would say I understand, let me come babysit or take the kids out while you take a nap, take a walk or even take care of that work you desperately need to get done.
We need to open up the conversation and our community to supporting each other without judgment. And we need to follow through by being that support. Once you’ve had these conversations and are getting to know people, offer to help cook that meal or take care of the kids. We never know when the day will come that we’ll need someone to reciprocate.
In our next post in this series, Building a Community’s Resources: Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect in Your Community, Part 2, we take a look at the support systems that families need to be stronger and what we can do to ensure those supports are available and accessible in our neighborhoods.
Prevention April 2016