Child Maltreatment Prevention is a Public Health Issue

By Keryn Bernard-Kriegl, NH Children's Trust Executive Director

It seems that incidents of parental wrong-doings are a regular item in the news. Blame and hatred are spewed at individuals but few solutions come forth. 

KBernardKriegl 2In the early 1980s, Congress made a commitment to identify and implement solutions to child abuse. Recognizing the alarming rate at which children continued to be abused and neglected and the need for innovative programs to prevent child abuse and assist parents and families affected by maltreatment, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives resolved that the week of June 6-12, 1982, should be designated as the first National Child Abuse Prevention Week. They asked the President to issue a proclamation calling upon government agencies and the public to observe the week with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities. The following year, April was proclaimed the first National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Since then, child abuse and neglect awareness activities have been promoted across the country during April of each year.  Here is President Obama's 2016 proclamation.

Though we’ve been aware of the consequences of child maltreatment for decades, we have failed to create the urgency needed to really make change. Unlike EEE, West Nile Virus, Ebola, Measles or even the recent Zika Virus, child maltreatment does not get the attention or funding from media, the public, or our Division of Public Health Services.

Why is this? I believe it is because it is too close to home. We know that one in four women and one in six men experience abuse or neglect before the age of 18. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study tells us that more than 60% of the adult population have had at least one ACE and are dealing with the effects of childhood trauma. We shy away from the issue because our cultural norms view this as an individual’s issue that requires an individual’s solution. 

We now know child maltreatment is really a community issue. Communities that celebrate and welcome new infants by hosting community baby showers and neighborhood or faith group check-ins and casserole support help parents raise children. Communities that facilitate family connections through public recreation areas, sidewalks, and events help parents raise children. Communities that provide intergenerational opportunities in schools, community organizations and faith groups help parents raise children. Communities that have the empathy and compassion to do small acts of kindness when a child is having a tantrum, wandering away or overcoming an obstacle help parents raise children.  We have compiled some additional ideas on ways you can suport children and families and we hope you will post and forward them so we can build caring communities.

We need you to get involved.  New Hampshire Children's Trust created a toolkit to help public health providers and others participate in National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The pinwheel is the national symbol for the great childhood that every child deserves. You can show your support by displaying pinwheels on social media, your desk and in your garden. 

We know that children thrive when in safe, stable and nurturing families and communities. The CDC has created a community of state public health departments, children’s trust funds, Prevent Child Abuse America chapters and others that are implementing the Essentials for Childhood.  Unfortunately, New Hampshire has not been able to identify resources provide this to our communities. You can help bring this to New Hampshire by learning more and sharing resources provided for free by the CDC with colleagues and friends.

This April, let’s make a shift from expecting stressed families to raise their children in isolation to creating communities of support. Let’s look at the 271,000 children in New Hampshire as OUR children and make decisions and take actions in OUR children’s best interest. For more information, you can contact the New Hampshire Children’s Trust at www.nhchildrenstrust.org.  #StandUpNH and take a stand against child abuse.

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