The month of April was declared Child Abuse Prevention Month by presidential proclamation in 1983.
It is time to acknowledge the need for helping families and communities collaborate to prevent child abuse.
“Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the children of the earth.
We did not weave the web of life; we are merely a stand in it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”
Complex Trauma and Child Abuse
According to the Child Traumatic Stress Network, the cumulative economic and social burden of complex trauma in childhood is extremely high. Based on data from a variety of sources, a conservative annual cost of child abuse and neglect is an estimated $103.8 billion, or $284.3 million per day (in 2007 values). This number includes both direct costs – about $70.7 billion – which include the immediate needs of maltreated children (hospitalization, mental health care, child welfare systems, and law enforcement), as well as indirect costs of about $33.1 billion.
These are the secondary or long-term effects of child abuse and neglect (special education, juvenile delinquency, mental health and healthcare, the adult criminal justice system, and lost productivity to society).
Research by Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE)
Research conducted by Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), reveals there is a reduced parenting capacity or maladaptive response for children exposed to complex trauma who are parenting their children. The physiological changes that have occurred to the adult’s stress response system, as a result of the earlier trauma, have been shown to diminish the capacity to respond to additional stressors in a healthy way. Families affected by abuse, domestic violence, and substance abuse issues will face future social risk factors which many times will repeat history by this exposure.
The common risk factors are:
- mental health issues
- substance abuse
- intimate partner violence
- adult adoption of these behaviors.
All of these can affect parenting in a negative way and perpetuate a continuing exposure across generations by transmission of epigenetic changes to the genome. The cycle of abuse will continue if there is not more work done in the area of prevention of child abuse.
Searching for Family
Working in both public and private social services, I had the opportunity to see firsthand the perpetuation of child abuse and neglect cases. Case in point, a teenage girl age 15, in foster care, gets pregnant. Her thought process is, “I don’t have anyone to love me, so I will have a baby and create my family.” The baby is born and remains in foster care with the mother. The foster family does their best to teach this young mother how to be responsible for her son or daughter.
After a few months, the foster child/mother will find herself feeling overwhelmed by this additional responsibility and will decide that she cannot find the love from the baby and, furthermore, all of the attention of the foster parents is now going towards her baby and not her. She decides to run away leaving her child behind. The baby then comes into foster care, and the foster parents may or may not adopt the child.
This is one of many examples of how child abuse both impacts the lives of children who found themselves in foster care.
All human beings need to know they belong somewhere and that they are loved. It is heartbreaking to see a teenage girl who feels like she has to create her own family because her parents did not have the capacity to parent. A teenage boy joins a gang to fill the void of low self-worth and having a dismantled family. The feeling of belonging finds its roots from the tree of a loving family.
Prevention Versus Removing Children from Family
Social workers are trained to conduct in-home assessments and make decisions regarding the need to remove a child(ren) from home.
The ultimate goal is keeping children safe while working with the parents towards a goal of reunification.
When this works, and the parents and other family members step in to keep children safe then the bond of the family is renewed. However, the unfortunate truth is that a large percentage of children never get to return home based on the inability of the parents and extended family to provide a safe and nurturing home.
When the foster care case goal changes to termination of parental rights and adoption the child’s life is instantly changed from the focus of going home to the reality, they can’t go home until they are 18 years old and chose to be “free of the system.”
Prevention is the key always. With family engagement and listening to the needs of the family and identifying the strengths of the family will give a family the opportunity to work together and develop a plan to keep their children safe.
Missed Signs of Child Abuse
Below are the lyrics to the song “Concrete Angel” by Martina McBride which gives us the simple answer to address child abuse prevention. We need to take ourselves off automatic pilot and pay attention to everyone and everything around us. We need to be mindful of the signs of child abuse. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has many resources to help those working with children and youth.
The goal is to offer training which will address the need for trauma-informed care. Everyone should be on the frontline to be aware of the need that may be right next door.
Concrete Angel by Martina McBride
“She walks to school with the lunch she packed
Nobody knows what she’s holdin’ back
Wearin’ the same dress she wore yesterday
She hides the bruises with linen and lace
The teacher wonders but she doesn’t ask
It’s hard to see the pain behind the mask
Bearing the burden of a secret storm
Sometimes she wishes she was never born
Through the wind and the rain
She stands hard as a stone
In a world that she can’t rise above
But her dreams give her wings
And she flies to a place where she’s loved
Somebody cries in the middle of the night
The neighbors hear, but they turn out the lights
A fragile soul caught in the hands o fate
When morning comes it’ll be too late.”
Childhood Abuse Prevention is something that we must all believe in. Each of us can make a difference in a child’s life. No child should have to live life in constant fear of being hurt. We don’t want to wake up and find out we are too late.
If this is you, or someone you know, you might want to consider our Outpatient and Aftercare Programs. You will be placed with individuals just like you who we are helping. You are not alone when you choose New Roads Behavioral Health- www.newroadstreatment.org Cinthia McFeature, Ph.D.
The Child Welfare Information Gateway is a service of the Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It provides access to print and electronic publications, Websites, and online databases, covering a wide range of topics. These topics range from prevention to permanency, including child welfare, child abuse, and neglect, adoption, search and reunion, and more.
National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Established by Congress in 2000, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) is a unique collaboration of academic and community-based service centers. Its mission is: to raise the standard of care and increase access to services for traumatized children and their families across the United States. Combining knowledge of child development, expertise in the full range of child traumatic experiences, and attention to cultural perspectives, NCTSN serves as a national resource for developing and disseminating evidence-based interventions, trauma-informed services, and public and professional education. The Network’s Website provides a variety of resources targeted toward educators, the general public, juvenile justice professionals, law enforcement, first responders, media, mental health/medical professionals, parents and caregivers, and policy makers.
McFeature, Bill & Herron-McFeature, Cinthia (2017). Integrated health – HeartPath practitioner assessment and intervention for the trauma-exposed patient. Melbourne, Florida: Motivational Press, Inc.
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