TOO MANY CRIES SERIES #1 – Pt 2 of 3

.jpg photo of Abilene Texas efforts to combat Child Abuse
Stephanie Hodge sorts through Christmas gift donations collected by the Taylor County Child Welfare Board to serve 290 abused or neglected children in their program.

Preventing Child Abuse requires a societal
approach

Abilene, TX  –  Being a parent is not easy.

There is no handbook, no how-to guide.

There are no rules, no regulations, no role models every parent can embody.

PROVIDE QUALITY CARE AND EDUCATION

Research suggests that states meeting the demands for child care assistance and neighborhoods with more licensed child care spaces relative to need had lower rates of child abuse and neglect.

Boyfriends or paramours in the home present one of the highest risks for child maltreatment, said Lori Bunton, violence prevention director and certified victim advocate at the Regional Victim Crisis Center in Abilene.

“Mothers are working really hard to figure out ways to survive to the point that we don’t even teach stranger-danger,” she said.

Instead, the center focuses on educating children about what child abuse is, how to recognize unsafe situations and know what to do, and who to tell, Bunton said.

“Most of these children are being left with strangers in their homes. It’s the people we’re inviting into our homes that these kids don’t really know or that these parents don’t know,” she said.  “It’s known strangers, what we call ‘familiars.'”

By providing quality child care and education early in life, children are not at as much risk for abuse and neglect, or worse, Fortson said.

In the CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System, many of the children who died were left with boyfriends or other caretakers who were not the biological parent and the mother needed to go to work, she said.

“Making sure we support parents in their role as parents, making sure they have access to child care and also good quality child care is important,” Fortson said.

Further evidence shows that preschool environments that engage families and show parents they have a role in their child’s life and can be advocates for their children in the education process can prevent child abuse and neglect, according to the CDC guidebook.

ENHANCE PARENTING SKILLS

Early childhood home visitation programs — in which families receive help from health, social service and child development professionals through regular, planned visits — have shown evidence of reducing rates of child abuse and neglect, Fortson said.

“In those programs, parents can be recruited when they’re pregnant or after delivery,” she said.  “The identification happens dependent on when the programs are intended to impact.”

For instance, a program specified for someone during pregnancy would identify those families based on age, socioeconomic status and education level, Fortson said.  Similar risk factors are used to identify parents for post-delivery programs.

A federal program — the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program — provides funds to states, territories and tribal entities to develop these programs for families with children from birth to kindergarten entry, according to the Health Resources & Services Administration website.

The Texas Home Visiting program received $17.2 million in federal funds in 2016 to operate four evidence-based models: Nurse-Family Partnership, Parents as Teachers, Early Head Start and Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters.

Home visiting programs are available in 30 counties — just Wichita County in the Abilene-Wichita Falls region, according to TexasHomeVisiting.org.

Dr. Chris Greeley, public health pediatrics chief at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and certified in child abuse pediatrics, said the most studied home visitation program is nurse-family partnership, in which a nurse is paired with a young pregnant woman and follows her through the child’s first two years of life by making regular visits to the home.

Mothers who participated in that program demonstrated decreased rates of abuse, Greeley said.

According to the CDC’s technical guide, the nurse-family partnership has documented a 48 percent reduction in child abuse and neglect, as well as decreases in risk factors associated with child abuse and neglect such as substance abuse, compared with women who did not participate in the program.

Greeley, who for four years chaired the Legislative Blue Ribbon Task Force that looked at ways to prevent child abuse and neglect, said parent-support programs that teach and improve parenting skills are another way to reduce abuse and neglect rates.

Prenatal classes are considered normal for first-time parents but not parent-support programs, which he said were like postnatal classes.  Normalizing that concept would be a big step in reducing child maltreatment.

“Even if you feel like you’ve done this before or can handle it, let’s have you come and take a refresher course on the basics of caring for kids and how you have to set your house up and what kind of relationships you want to have with people who can support you,” he said.  “These programs can be individualized to specific families or often used for large populations.”

Greeley also was on the Department of Family and Protective Services advisory panel for prevention and early intervention of child abuse.

“When you can prevent child abuse and neglect, you’re making life better for kids and families,” Fortson said.  “When we provide essentials for childhood — which means a life free of poverty, a life where you have the support of parents and other important individuals in the kid’s life, in addition to skills and other things that might be necessary for effective parenting — then you can not only prevent child maltreatment, but you can prevent lots of other things, as well, and support a healthy life and development of the child.”

At the CDC, preventing child maltreatment is an issue that calls for a comprehensive strategy, she said.

“You can do these various programs, whether it’s parent-training or the Early Childhood Home Visitation programs,” Fortson said. “Those programs are likely to have an effect for some people, but if we also think about supporting some of these other strategies — poverty reduction, those types of strategies — then we can prevent even more and have an even greater impact.”

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