Child abuse often a hidden, deadly scourge
We all say that children are our priority, that they deserve to be happy and healthy and live in stable, loving homes. We also say that they are our future.
Even more, when asked we say that we know child abuse and neglect is a serious problem, in fact research shows that 90 percent of the public continually asserts this.
Still, child abuse and neglect persists.
It’s true that child abuse has been shown to be on the decline, but this trend is confused by ever-changing reporting laws and inconsistent data collection from state to state and community to community.
Equally as important, there is no national vision or plan for children, all children, and their families. Nor are there any benchmarks which would allow us to know whether we are even successful enhancing child and family well-being.
Yet we say that children are our future.
In truth, we know more than ever what to do to prevent child abuse and neglect, sexual abuse, and abusive head trauma.
But we need to take action. All adults, and all communities, must and can play a role in prevention. Neighbors can offer to babysit one another’s children to help reduce the stress, frustration and isolation so many parents experience.
People can contact the local media and ask why they don’t talk about the prevention programming, such as home visiting, that already exists across the state. Further, citizens can volunteer at prevention organizations in communities across Michigan, such as our chapter, Prevent Child Abuse Michigan. Or, they can ask policymakers and corporate leaders what their plan is for Michigan’s children and families.
We believe that we all need to take action, year-round, but we also know that we need somewhere to start, so why not April as we mark Child Abuse Prevention Month, as we have since 1983?
During April you have seen pinwheels spinning across Michigan, standing for the action someone took on behalf of children and families. Pinwheels are the new symbol for child abuse and neglect prevention in the U.S., with more than 650,000 distributed across the nation in 2012 as part of the Pinwheels for Prevention campaign, and more than three million since April 2008.
The pinwheels also serve to build a community of citizens who support the prevention of child abuse and neglect, and we want people from all walks of life business and faith leaders, coaches and teachers, parents and neighbors to be part of that community.
The fact is, when we invest in healthy child development, we are investing in community and economic development, because unfortunately, children are sometimes exposed to extreme and sustained stress like child abuse and neglect, which can undermine a child’s development.
This toxic stress damages the developing brain and adversely affects an individual’s learning and behavior, as well as increases susceptibility to physical and mental illness.
Research shows a strong correlation between child abuse and neglect and debilitating and chronic health consequences. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in collaboration with Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego, found that individuals who experienced child maltreatment were more likely to engage in risky behavior, such as smoking, substance abuse and sexual promiscuity, and to suffer from adverse health effects such as obesity and certain chronic diseases.
Further, Prevent Child Abuse America estimates that implementing effective policies and strategies to prevent child abuse and neglect can save taxpayers $80 billion per year.
The cost of not doing so includes more than $33 billion in direct costs for foster care services, hospitalization, mental health treatment, and law enforcement.
Indirect costs of over $47 billion include loss of productivity, as well as expenditures related to chronic health problems, special education and the criminal justice system.
As these numbers demonstrate, getting prevention right early is less costly to society, and to individuals, than trying to fix things later.
But we all need to be on the same page when it comes to children and families. And we need a plan. Because if we believe that children truly are our future, then we need to act now, not next month, or next year, but now.
Editor’s note: James Hmurovich is president and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse America.