April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month (CAPM)–a month in which we raise awareness around maltreatment of one of our most vulnerable populations, children. Maltreatment defines almost all forms of violence against children, including exploitation, physical and mental violence, abuse and neglect. CAPM was first recognized in a 2016 proclamation by President Obama. President Obama’s proclamation was a call to action in which he encouraged the nation to recommit to giving every child a chance to grow up in a safe, stable and nurturing environment free from abuse and neglect. Additionally, the proclamation addresses certain methods of maltreatment prevention, some of which fall in line with the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified human rights instrument in the world.
Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that a child has a human right to be free of all forms of violence. The Convention encourages all who have ratified it to take appropriate measures to protect children from exploitation and/or maltreatment, physical and mental violence, abuse and neglect. Further, the Convention describes a system in which preventative measures are implemented and social programs are created to provide support to children experiencing maltreatment.
Remarkably, the United States is the only country in the world that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The United States, does, however, have some systems in place to address child abuse and neglect. Are our systems adequate? Do hotline systems, child welfare investigators, and courts protect and support our children?
According to the most recent statistics, an estimated 1,750 American children died from abuse and neglect in 2016. Nearly 700,000 children are abused annually in the United States. The most common form of maltreatment is neglect. Out of the children that experience maltreatment, neglect accounts for three quarters of those affected, according to data from the National Children’s Alliance. Parents are the perpetrators of most forms of maltreatment. Nearly four out of five abusers are parents. How can we better equip children and families who have faced these issues?
We can help children by first ensuring that everyone, i.e. adult caregiver and providers, parents, educators, pediatricians, community leaders, etc., who interacts with children understands Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) and then by creating interventions. Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, is a term used to describe all types of child maltreatment that occurs under the age of 18. There is a significant connection between ACEs and negative outcomes in adulthood, including poor physical and mental health, substance abuse, and engaging in risky behaviors. The more ACEs children experience the more likely these outcomes will occur. Research around the impact of ACEs has fostered a sense of urgency around both the prevention of childhood trauma and appropriate responses to trauma. Understanding the impact of ACEs can be used to provide trauma informed interventions, to help mitigate negative outcomes. Trauma informed interventions include: parenting training programs, social support for parents, sufficient income support for low-income families, high quality child care and mental illness and substance abuse treatment. Ultimately, by using trauma informed interventions and preventative measures, communities can properly address and deter child maltreatment.
The Strengthening Families model is a research-based approach that is informed by ACEs to prevent child maltreatment. This approach increases family strengths, enhances child development, and reduces the likelihood of child maltreatment. According to the Center for Social Policy, Strengthening Families is based on engaging families, programs, and communities in building five protective factors: parental resilience, social connections, knowledge of parenting and child development, concrete support in times of need, and improving the social and emotional competence of children. The model can help create a culture in which child maltreatment can be prevented or addressed through trauma informed interventions. To learn more about the Strengthening Families model visit the webpage for the Center for Social Policy.
Child maltreatment is preventable problem. We must implement research informed systems to support families to prevent trauma from child neglect and abuse, and to better respond to trauma that does occur. Our current systems tend to be reactionary rather than preventative. We must understand and recognize the causes of ACEs and engage families and communities. All agencies and people that deal with the livelihoods of children must adopt guidelines and procedures established in the Strengthening Families model.Tags: Child Abuse Prevention Month, Convention on the Rights of the Child