April is nationally recognized as Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month. Prevention and support services are paramount to a child’s healthy development.
Kansas Children’s Service League (KCSL) is the leading agency in the state for prevention services for Child Abuse and Neglect and is the state chapter for Prevent Child Abuse America. KCSL is just one of many agencies working hard to prevent child abuse and neglect across the state.
Children are the foundation for a healthy society and therefore, their healthy development should always be a top priority. Adverse childhood experiences like child abuse and neglect often have lifetime consequences for a child. By making a commitment to strengthen families during the years from birth to five, we help children develop in a healthy manner from the start.
Doing this during a critical period in their development can especially impact their brain’s growth and development. Programs and strategies like home visiting, parent education, support groups, mental health services, available and affordable child care and substance abuse treatment all play a role in strengthening families, helping them to live healthier lives. By ensuring that parents have the knowledge, skills and resources they need to care for their children, we can strengthen families and the communities that they live in.
For every dollar invested in prevention services, seven dollars are saved in intervention and reactive services. This information comes from High Scope Perry Pre-School Project, but other researchers and even politicians have used this formula, promoting prevention services.
We know that everyone is going to have to do their part in these difficult economic times. Funding is short, but there are advocates who believe in prevention services. They are lobbying to preserve funding for quality programming that supports prevention efforts.
To help you understand the importance of this topic, let me give you some recent statistics. There were 65,152 reports of child abuse and neglect in Kansas during the state fiscal year of 2014 (July 2013-June 2014). Of those reports, there were 35,551 that were screened in and investigated. That is over 97 cases per day, on average, in the State of Kansas where the report was such that an investigation was warranted.
That is just so hard to imagine! Lyon County alone documented 805 reports of child abuse in that same time period, with 436 of them being investigated for abuse and neglect issues. For our Lyon County statistics, that calculates to an average of 2.2 calls per day and 1.2 calls being screened in for investigation in Lyon County.
Unfortunately, we know that the abuse against children and the violence in homes has increased in intensity in the recent years, and that is very sad. Many have become desensitized by the violence in our communities, and the abuse in our homes. It is time to take a stand against violence and abuse.
Through prevention programs, it is hoped that we can significantly decrease the number of children being abused or neglected, thus decreasing the calls to the abuse and neglect hotline, and increasing the social and emotional well being of our children in Kansas.
Even in intervention services, we can make a difference in the lives of children, but wouldn’t it be a healthier world if we didn’t have children who were being abused and neglected and needed those intervention services? Eventually, if prevention services were provided correctly and adequately, workers in the field of child abuse and neglect could work themselves right out of a job, and I, for one, would be okay with that.
We all play a role in ensuring that prevention services and programs exist in our community. That role or partnership could be through financial support to an agency, volunteering in the schools or in an agency working with children. It could also be through supporting our neighbors and families with social and emotional support when life gets tough.
These activities all result in touching the lives of children in a positive way. When we donate to child advocacy causes, participate in youth-focus community organizations and support others in stressful times, we are personally promoting the health and wellbeing of every child in our community.
So, in saying this, I propose a question: “How can we ensure that every child has an equal opportunity for healthy growth and development?” I would like to invite you to be a part of something bigger than yourself. When we do that, we help drive the future of our community and our country.
We encourage responsible citizens to take an interest in the life of a child, to be bold enough to forge a lasting relationship, step out and protect that child, including calling the Abuse and Neglect hotline when you suspect that a child is being mistreated and abused. That toll free number is 1-800-922-5330. The call can be anonymous but your name, if given, will never be shared with the family or child.
If you see a family who needs supports, reach out to them and connect them with services in the community. Encourage them to call the Parent Helpline at 1-800-CHILDREN, which is a toll free call, staffed 24 hours a day and 7 days a week by trained professionals who can help.
KCSL has partnered with the Prevent Child Abuse America and the Pinwheels for Prevention program to help spread the word and the work of Child Abuse Prevention. The visual cue of a pinwheel, a traditional childhood toy shining bright and spinning in the wind, is to help us remember that every child deserves a wonderful childhood.
Take a look around the Emporia Community in April and hopefully you will see some pinwheel gardens sprouting up. But more importantly, take a look around to see what you and others can do personally in the efforts to strengthen families, empower parents and support our children and youth. To learn more, please visit www.pinwheelsforprevention.org or visit the KCSL website www.kcsl.org .
Dr. Bruce Perry once said, “If 20 million people were infected by a virus that caused anxieties, impulsivity, aggression, sleep problems, depression, respiratory and heart problems, vulnerability to substance abuse, antisocial and criminal behavior, retardation and school failure, we would consider it an urgent public health crisis. Yet in the United States alone, there are more than 20 million abused, neglected and traumatized children vulnerable to these problems. Our society has yet to recognize the epidemic, let alone develop an immunization strategy.”
I am urging you to help be a part of that immunization strategy, supporting families to be healthy (physically, socially and emotionally) and protecting our children from maltreatment.