Kerry, a teen mother, is frustrated because her 18 month old son, Jack, will not stop running in the house. Through her tears, Kerry explained to her Social Worker that Jack consistently refuses to listen to her although she tells him repeatedly to stop. Jack has already fallen several times while running in his socks, and according to Kerry, he still has not learned his lesson. The Social Worker advised Kerry to continue parenting Jack with patience, persistence, and a positive attitude. She reminds Kerry that Jack is naturally exploring as a toddler; just as Kerry explores as a teenager. As Kerry has shared this frustration several times, she finally made the connection that the social worker implied. As a teenager Kerry has admitted that she often doesn’t listen to her parents and that children sometimes test their boundaries; a lesson Kerry said she can relate to.
Fortunately, Kerry is a participant in the statewide Parent Linking Program (PLP), a program that helps teen parents finish their education but also become the best parents they can be for their children. PLP is a program for teen parents which is provided free of charge in high schools that includes a social worker who provides regular counseling to students like Kerry. All teen parents in PLP are encouraged to be more responsible and nurturing parents as they balance the responsibilities of being a student-parent. In PLP, Kerry’s Social Worker reminds her consistently of the positive outcomes she can continue experiencing if she avoids having another unintended pregnancy; specifically while she is still in high school.
May is Prevent Teen Pregnancy Month where national awareness and participation is encouraged in an effort to prevent unintended teen pregnancies. These efforts are especially important for those who live with and/or work with teens who are already parents. Over 700,000 teen pregnancies occur each year in the United States; most of them, 80%, are unintended pregnancies. Each year, the Parent Linking Program (PLP), of Prevent Child Abuse-NJ reminds over 200 teen parents to make plans for healthy family choices and avoid subsequent unintended pregnancies. Although teen pregnancy in New Jersey has declined, there are still 6,000 teen parents statewide who could use support in preventive efforts to avoid unintended pregnancies.
PLP, a School Based Youth Services Program funded by the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, was created because it is a proven fact that children born to teen parents are at greater risk of being neglected and abused due to lack of knowledge, resources, and finances. In exchange for free child care, program participants are required to attend the weekly parenting and life skills workshops, in addition to the normal academic curriculum required for graduation. These components prevent present and future child abuse and neglect by enhancing the teenage parent’s self-esteem, knowledge of parenting and child development, and ability to meet financial responsibilities by helping the teen parent complete high school and delay repeat pregnancies.
Fortunately with the support of the parents/guardians of the teen parents and the support of PLP Coordinators (Social Workers, Directors, and Caregivers) 95% of the program’s participants do NOT have a second unintended pregnancy. Often in home visits, PLP Coordinators discuss with family members the importance of the consistent reminder of responsible family planning.
Most PLP participants express good intentions with their children despite their challenges. They are usually challenged with sacrificing their time, money, and even personal space (sharing bedrooms with their children). Participants are reminded that a repeat unintended pregnancy can add harmful stressors to the teen mother as well as her child. In addition, stress puts repeat births of teenagers more at risk of preterm and low-birth weight in comparison to their first births.
The Parent Linking Program’s 25 year history has proven that the program’s services can lead to powerful changes in the communities of New Jersey. 95% of the teen parents enrolled in Parent Linking Program have graduated high school and, 90% planned to attend college. Many of the PLP program alumni and current participants speak to their peers in school about their challenges and ways to avoid unintended pregnancies. Teen pregnancy prevention can be a communal effort sharing messages of responsibility in the homes, schools, cultural centers in every community. Fortunately, New Jersey is one of the lowest ranking states in teen pregnancy rates. In May, and every day, please remember that supporting a teen parent is increasing the likelihood of successful outcomes; high school and college degrees, greater job and life skills, and of course, happier and healthier children.
While PLP has trained professionals counseling the teen parents, these professionals also encourage the parents and guardians of teen parents to talk about pregnancy prevention. If you are a parent, here are some tips to help you navigate the discussion on pregnancy prevention:
In May and throughout the year, spread the message to a teenager that avoiding an unintended pregnancy is a responsible decision.
Most people may not know that February is Dental Health Month. Well, now you know. If you are the type of person that is meticulous about oral care, GREAT!!! But, if you aren’t, after reading this you might want to run to your dentist’s office.
Oral care starts before birth. For many of us, our oral history is directly related to that of our mother’s. So eating a nutritionally balanced diet during pregnancy is important and a great way to create a positive path towards good oral health. Secondly, when a child is born, just because their teeth aren’t usually visible doesn’t mean that you ignore oral health until the child starts teething. Parents should take the time to wipe out their baby’s mouth with a soft washcloth and tap water after each feeding. For those of you who are asking why tap water and not spring water – tap water contains Fluoride, the same main ingredient used in toothpastes. Another benefit of wiping out a baby’s mouth is that this prevents thrush, white patches that develop over time because of yeast build up in a baby’s mouth usually found in breast milk or formula. Once your child’s teeth start to grow, you should use a kid’s soft toothbrush to brush away the bacteria that forms from milk or baby food. This is also the time to start familiarizing your child with the dentist. A baby’s first dental visit should take place by their first birthday.
As a child grows, it is beneficial to lead by example. If you want your child to brush their teeth, you can start by having them watch you as you brush your teeth. Your “mini-me” is going to want to emulate everything you do so make sure you set a good example. You can start the process by having your child pick out a toothbrush they like. This way, they will be excited to brush their teeth. In addition, choosing a toothpaste that tastes good to your child and singing a song will also make it easier to get them to incorporate brushing into their daily routine. Tooth time will feel less like a chore and more like a fun activity for your child. As a parent or guardian, you will still need to assist your child through the oral care process because until a child is about 8 years old, they may not know how to or understand the importance of flossing. To get them to floss on their own in the future, you may want to show your child how it’s done while facing a mirror or show them an animated video.
Now that you have established an oral care routine with your child you can add a fluoride rinse to your regimen. Fluoride rinses, such as Listerine, aide in washing away bacteria and promotes fresh breath. The added fluoride also helps to strengthen teeth to reduce the risk of cavities and gingivitis. For children you may want to use an alcohol-free rinse in order to avoid the harshness of traditional fluoride rinses.
We at Prevent Child Abuse-NJ are providing this informational blog to ensure that you, the parent, who serves as your child’s first and most important teacher, have the tools to ensure your child continues to have a happy, safe and healthy childhood. Since these are such important reasons to visit the dentist regularly, why not start the tradition of family dentist visits with your child.
Remember to brush twice a day, floss once a day, replace your toothbrush once every three to four months and have a dental check-up twice a year.
Check out the following websites for more information:
Now that you have all the tools for a successful oral health routine, it’s time to use them. Go and make a dentist appointment for you and your family. Make February 1st dental health day.
Recently, Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) released a report that finds that our youngest children –those younger than age 3 — were far more likely to die from child abuse and spend longer times in foster care than older children. The report is a valuable wake-up call that raises public awareness about the high levels of stress for parents with young children and a number of long-standing weaknesses in the foster care system. The report calls for better training of child welfare workers and special attention to the special issues of babies and toddlers.
Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey supports these excellent recommendations and while they may be necessary, they are not sufficient to fully address the challenge of child maltreatment that lies before us.
Child maltreatment – most notably physical abuse and neglect – happens to younger children in all settings for many of the same reasons it happens in the foster care system: younger children can present some of the most difficult challenges for parents because their communication skills are limited and their behavior can be trying even for the most stable and successful parents. And many parents lack sufficient knowledge about healthy child development to be a positive parent.
Federal statistics and NJ show that the highest rate of maltreatment happens to children under age 4 and the 80% of all fatalities from abuse occur to children younger than.
So certainly, ongoing reforms are needed in the foster care system to reduce the risk of child abuse for our youngest children.
But maybe more importantly, we have the opportunity to PREVENT these tragedies from occurring before a foster placement becomes necessary and before a child becomes a victim.
Improving the training of child welfare workers can be helpful, but strengthening proven prevention programs like home visitation would yield better results. Although home visitation programs have been expanded, we are only able to serve a small percentage of families in high-risk situations. We should also consider requiring foster parents to participate in home visitation programs to more closely monitor the stress level in this new temporary family setting, which would provide added education and support to prevent a tragedy.
The foster care system is a result of our most fundamental failure to prevent child abuse. Our first priority should be to strengthen our efforts to prevent child abuse from ever happening. Research about prevention programs shows they save lives, improve a child’s long-term health outcomes and success, and save taxpayers money by preventing the downstream costs of foster care, law enforcement, health care, treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues, incarceration and unemployment.
Anytime there is a case of child abuse, we need to back up from the crime and ask, “What could have been done to prevent this from ever happening?” In addition to helpful recommendation by ACNJ about reforms in the child welfare systems, there are many valuable opportunities to do better to prevent child abuse in NJ.
We recognize the extraordinary challenges and stresses facing parents in our State. The recent devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, followed by an early Nor’easter, caused millions of New Jersey residents to lose access to the basic necessities – food, shelter, clothing, water and electricity. These unprecedented events came on top of other forms of devastation related to the economic downturn that caused many to lose their homes, jobs, and security for their families.
With Jerry Sandusky’s sentencing now complete there will be a temptation for our country to close the book on this story and focus on other concerns that impact us, such as job creation, the economy, and ensuring our national security. But to do so would be to ignore another concern that impacts all of us: the on-going responsibility of adults to ensure that all children have the opportunity to lead healthy lives. To neglect this lesson is to dismiss the reality of the adverse consequences on our communities when a child is abused.
This sentence must not be the end of something; but the beginning of something new. As a nation, we can learn from this tragedy and make the individual and collective commitment that we will ensure the safety of children we think are in danger, we will support community organizations that work tirelessly to help families in need, and we will make the commitment of good stewardship to our children’s development.
As upsetting, and tragic, as this event has been, it has also increased awareness about how we can prevent sexual abuse by understanding the ways predators groom children; and how sexual abuse is less a tale of “stranger danger,” and more about the potential danger to children who are betrayed by a trusted adult or peer acquaintance.
Because of this event the norm of silence about child sexual abuse is beginning to become a more open and honest discussion about what it takes to ensure healthy child development. Institutions in communities across the nation are refining how they deal with situations like this and how they can prevent them from ever occurring again.
Given this, we challenge all adults to see today’s sentence as a call to action, and a moment where they can pledge to do what’s necessary to prevent child sexual abuse in their own communities by:
“From a tragedy such as this, hope can emerge, and the future health of not just our nation’s children and their families, but the nation itself can be addressed,” said James M. Hmurovich, President & CEO, Prevent Child Abuse America. “Today is a new day, and while we will not forget what brought us here, it can be the start of something healthy and positive. We hope you will join us, because what could be more important than the health and happiness of our children and their families…. Nothing I can think of.”
ABOUT PREVENT CHILD ABUSE NEW JERSEY
Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey, incorporated in 1979 as the state chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America, works in all twenty-one counties of the state to eliminate child abuse and neglect in all of its forms for all of New Jersey’s children. All of the organization’s work is research-based and built around nationally-recognized models. The nonprofit coordinates a full spectrum of family support programs including home visitation services, parent education groups, initiatives that promote parental involvement in a child’s education, and programs for highly vulnerable families.
Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey supports the NCAA’s leadership and actions taken in response to the unfortunate events at Penn State. Setting up an endowment to fund programs that can prevent a situation like what happened at Penn State from ever happening is a solid step forward and there are effective strategies than can be used to do just that.
The President of Penn State also deserves credit due to his courageous stances that show his commitment to building a university and athletic program based on a truer definition of integrity. President Erickson accepted the harsh penalties from the NCAA, in contrast to others who continue to debate the benefits of a college football program versus horrific crimes against children. He also removed the statue of Joe Paterno from outside the football stadium, stating it represented a permanent symbol of sorrow for survivors of child sexual abuse.
While everyone can debate whether the penalties were too little or too much, we prefer to compare them to what they could have been. It is not difficult to imagine an NCAA that would have “punted” in this situation, saying instead that this was a matter for the courts. Nor is it difficult to envision a University President who would have chosen to litigate and defend, possibly a more popular option for many.
There is no doubt that Jerry Sandusky committed horrendous crimes at Penn State, and that the leadership of the University, at the highest levels, chose to hide those crimes to protect a football program. As a result, more children were assaulted and their lives will never be the same. As parents and adults in society, one of our most cherished responsibilities is to protect our children from harm. There is a silent epidemic of child sexual abuse that is pervasive in our communities. We can do so much more to protect our children from sexual abuse, and these actions from both the NCAA and Penn State President Erickson represent powerful steps in the right direction.
At Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey, we are leading efforts in our State to prevent child sexual abuse by working with the State’s top leaders and mobilizing efforts in three communities to educate adults about the true facts of child sexual abuse and steps every adult can take to protect children. We are also developing “safe-child policies” that can be adopted by every youth-serving organization. We are working with the NJ Academy of Pediatrics to engage doctors in our effort to prevent abuse. By working together, we can prevent children from ever being a victim of child sexual abuse, and prevent a situation like Penn State from ever happening here in New Jersey.
The Star-Ledger Editorial Board published an article on June 12th applauding the expansion of home visitation programs serving new and expectant parents in New Jersey. Investment in voluntary home visitation and parent support services is a step in the right direction. Investments in children in the earliest years – as early as prenatally – have been found to have the strongest impact on lifelong health and well-being. The period from 0-3 represents the most significant time period in terms of rapid brain development and the best opportunity to get kids on a path for lifelong success.
There is a lack of understanding about home visitation programs, which are viewed by some as invasive, unnecessary, and wasteful of taxpayer money. These views are tied to the perception that home visitation programs are an attempt to remedy the “ills” of society – poverty, single parenthood, and teen pregnancy. While these programs may primarily be available to families who are low-income or otherwise deemed “at-risk” for child maltreatment, all parents can benefit from the support of a home visitor. These are not programs for poor people. These are programs for parents who need support. And let’s be realistic – all new parents need support.
Public policies in the US have been based on the assumption that private, informal networks are sufficient to help most parents care for their children. But traditional support networks are not what they used to be. Extended families are separated by distance and life circumstances. Women are working almost as often as men, which means many grandmothers, aunts, and other supports are not there to assist moms on a day-to-day basis. Fathers are stepping up to the plate as equal partners in parenting – often without preparation, role models, or social acceptance of their value.
Relying on traditional support networks is no longer adequate. Few realize the grim outlook for children born in the United States when compared to the remainder of the developed world. The U.S. ties with Mexico for the highest child abuse death among all industrialized nations – triple that of Canada and 11 times that of Italy. To put this in perspective, in the past decade, the US has lost almost four times as many children to abuse and neglect on our home soil than the number of US forces killed in the same time period in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We cannot ignore these truths, and the only responsible course of action is to break from tradition and consider alternatives.
For those who think that prevention programming is wasteful, consider that we spend an estimated $104 billion annually paying for the after effects of child abuse and neglect. This is a conservative estimate, taking into consideration the costs of healthcare, child welfare, criminal justice, and special education that are often a result of child maltreatment. Based on population size, New Jersey’s share of that bill is an estimated $3 billion. We spend $600 million alone in this State on child protective services, which is only after an incident of abuse has been reported. In contrast, the mere $9.4 million allocated to expand home visitation programs that are proven through 25 years of research to prevent child abuse and neglect seems like a wise investment. We can grow healthy children now, or spend exceedingly more responding to the effects of child abuse later. This is not a question of throwing more money at a problem – but rather spending our taxpayer money more efficiently. And the cost savings pale in comparison to the quality of the life improvements for our children.
Universal home visitation is the norm in much of the industrialized world. Countries that provide home visiting to all newborn children also have the lowest rates of child maltreatment and much better overall outcomes for maternal and child health. It has been said that “children’s health is a nation’s wealth” as investments in children today will lead to a more intelligent and competent workforce to compete in the global economy of the future. The expansion of home visitation in New Jersey is the right move to strengthen families during the opportune time – when parenting begins – to get kids off to the best possible start.
As originally printed in the Trenton Times & NJ.com on June 8, 2012:
As the trial of accused child molester Jerry Sandusky begins, we can expect to see, once again, the public’s outrage about the whole tragic affair — how so many children could be victims, over such a long period of time, with no one doing anything. So far, most of the media’s coverage has focused on the question of reporting, i.e. who at Penn State saw something or knew something and should have done something to stop it.
But there has been almost no attention to the question of what it would have taken to have prevented these tragedies from happening in the first place. Child sexual abuse can be prevented.
A key is for parents to know three things:
1) The most likely perpetrator is someone they know and trust;
2) perpetrators take steps to gain the trust of children and their parents, which is called “grooming”; and
3) child sexual abuse happens when an adult has one-on-one access to a child, so parents need to be vigilant about those situations.
Parents need to understand that in 90 percent of all cases of child sexual abuse, the child and family know and trust the perpetrator. The biggest danger to a child isn’t a stranger in the park – it’s someone a parent trusts and even likes and respects — and someone who has access to the child in one-on-one situations.
Just understanding this can help parents be aware of the situations that pose the greatest risk to their children.
Who has one-on-one access to your child? If your child is spending time in a one-on-one situation with an adult, are you able to drop in unannounced? Do you? Is the setting one where a child could be offered alcohol, which is often used as part of grooming? When your child comes home, do you speak with him/her to ask how things went, and what happened that day?
Parents need to stay in touch with their kids’ activities and watch for warning signs that something unusual may have happened.
A relatively small percentage of perpetrators fall into the serial pedophile category, represented by the Sandusky case. More than one-third of all cases involve adolescents with younger adolescents.
So, it bears repeating: Parents need to be vigilant and aware. They must ask themselves if their young teen, son or daughter, is hanging out with much older teens. The “power differential” that happens with an older child and a younger one can be a risk factor for abuse.
Finally, a parent should note whether his or her child has received any gifts from these same individuals, possibly ones that may seem unusual. Perpetrators often provide gifts to victims as a way to gain their trust and affection, or to bribe them not to tell if something has happened. If a child has received such gifts, a parent may simply want to ask more questions. There are other warning signs related to abuse that include mood changes in the child, or signs that he or she has a new fear of spending time with a certain adult, that should be paid attention to.
In all of the cases at Penn State, these warning signs were being sounded loud and clear, yet parents and other adults weren’t listening or didn’t know what to watch for.
Still, today, the media are not asking about these issues or reporting about what it takes to prevent child sexual abuse from happening. Today, by knowing the facts, an adult or parent or caregiver can be more vigilant, ask questions and take steps to protect children. Everyone in our community has a role to play.
It’s not that any adult who cares about or who spends time with a child is a likely perpetrator. We don’t want to live in a society where fear and distrust replace noble human instincts and behavior.
Right now, however, we are not doing an adequate job of protecting our children from sexual abuse. Thousands of lives are devastated each year in New Jersey alone. A little more vigilance and education will go a long way toward preventing child sexual abuse — before it ever happens to a child.
In New Jersey, we have created the New Jersey Partnership to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse, a statewide coalition of our state’s top experts. Our strategy focuses on educating adults about the above facts and much more about child sexual abuse that parents and all adults can use to protect children. We’ve chosen three communities to lead the effort, including Mercer County, led by PEI Kids in Lawrence. Eventually, we hope to reach every community in the state. The initiative is based on replicating a successful model, the Enough Abuse Campaign, a research-based model developed with support from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In New Jersey, we’ve had enough abuse — enough shame, enough guilt, enough harm, enough silence — and we are strongly committed to better protecting the most vulnerable members of our society from being preyed upon by adults who are supposed to be their caring protectors.
We are incredibly pleased to debut a refreshed portion of our family of websites today, along with a new public service announcement video!
For the past year, the staff at PCA-NJ and our home visiting programs have been working to create the new website that would be both useful and informative for parents, professionals, and communities statewide. That revamped website is available today at www.healthyfamiliesnj.org:
Our new PSA is a 30-second spot that speaks of the value of home visiting. Please share the video with all of your colleagues!
The following piece was written by Caitlin Perry, a graduate student of Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and former intern of Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey.
On Saturday, September 25, 2011, on-air broadcasting will stop at Nickelodeon, Nicktoons, TeenNick, and Nick Jr., as well as online at Nick.com, Nicktoons.com, TeenNick.com, and NickJr.com. Nickelodeon and its networks are creating this “blackout” in an effort to support Worldwide Day of Play (WWDP). Children require 60 minutes of physical activity every day, and Worldwide Day of Play encourages children and their families to participate in physical activity rather than sit in front of a television or computer screen.
One in three children in the United States is overweight or obese. Increasing physical activity during childhood decreases the risk for overweight and obesity, as well as weight-related health problems later in life. In addition to providing an opportunity to be active, limiting screen time cuts down on the number of advertisements for unhealthy food and beverages that children view. This reduction in exposure to food advertisements may protect children against marketing schemes and play a role in improving their diets.
With overweight and obesity rates increasing in the United States, Worldwide Day of Play is taking a step toward obesity prevention. Families can spend the day being active together, and parents can model and promote physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Encourage your family to participate in Worldwide Day of Play. Keep a tally of your different activities during the day, and see how many different ways you can be active!
Spending time with your family away from the television is not only good for your physical health, but it helps strengthen the emotional health of your family as well. The bonds that form when parents and children play together help protect families during stressful times when child abuse is more likely to occur. Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey commends initiatives like Worldwide Day of Play that promote valuable family togetherness time, and we encourage you to set aside time every day to play with your children.