Every April communities from around the country come together in an effort to raise awareness of child abuse prevention. During this time I often reflect back on my arrival to Brevard County 11 years ago. What attracted me to Brevard was the degree of investment and passion local citizens expressed around creating a system of care in our community that would reach at risk children, youth and families before the stressors they experience result in child abuse.
Child abuse and neglect affects every age, race and income bracket. In 2013, nearly 3.5 million reports of child abuse were made concerning the safety and wellbeing of nearly 6.4 million children in America. Of the reports made, approximately 679,000 were found to be victims of child abuse or neglect.
Research reveals several factors that increase the risk of abuse and neglect; and when these multiple risk factors are present in a family the likelihood of abuse greatly increases. These risk factors include: immaturity, unrealistic expectations, stress, substance use, generational patterns of abuse, and isolation. When compounded with the general challenges of raising children, life’s stressors can result in abuse and/or neglect.
Preventing child abuse and neglect has far reaching implications not only for the individual who is spared, but also upon the community as a whole. Research informs us that child abuse leaves lasting wounds that, without support and intervention to facilitate healing, can impair an individual for a lifetime. According to Xiangming & Corso, 2007, abusive parents often have experienced abuse during their own childhoods. Of great concern, being abused or neglected as a child increases the likelihood of arrest as a juvenile by 59 percent, as an adult by 28 percent, and for a violent crime by 30 percent according to one study that looked at more than 1,500 cases over time (the researchers matched 900 cases of substantiated child abuse with more than 650 cases of children who had not been abused).
The Center for the Study of Social Policies’ Strengthening Families Initiative has identified 5 Protective Factors that are characteristics that have been shown to make positive outcomes more likely for young children and their families, and to reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. They include:
- Parental Resilience
- Social Connections
- Concrete Supports
- Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development
- Social and Emotional Competence of Children
For more information on the 5 Protective Factors, please visit the Center for the Study of Social Policies’ website at www.cssp.org.
To effect sustainable change in our community that will make Brevard a safe and healthy place to live where families can thrive requires everyone, everywhere, every day to make children a priority. It may be a simple social connection, a sense of belonging that breaks isolation, offering concrete support in the time of someone’s need, a helping hand, a kind gesture, a willingness to step out of the daily routine of life and take a risk whenever and where ever it is needed.
As we commemorate child abuse prevention awareness month consider how you can make a meaningful difference in the life of a vulnerable parent so together as a community children are our priority. A child’s future may depend on you.
Dr. Patricia Nellius
 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2014). Child Maltreatment 2013. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved from http://www. acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/resource/child-maltreatment-2013.