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.
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.
The following is an entry in our “Guest Author” series on our official blog here at Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey. Periodically, we will bring on leading members of the nonprofit world and its associated communities to discuss current trends, news, and best-practices. Our first guest post comes to us from Marion Conway, nonprofit consultant, and speaks to the benefits of social networking for nonprofit organizations here in New Jersey.
Nonprofits across the country are learning about the power of social media to build relationships with existing supporters, and to make new ones. Notice I said supporters – not donors. Social Media is used for so much more than fundraising, and in fact it can only be used effectively for fundraising once you have a solid presence and following. That takes time and energy – but guess what? – it can also be fun. The power of social media is its viral and interactive nature. It isn’t just about you getting your message out. It is about communicating with each other and others freely spreading your message.
Here are some ways a wide spectrum of New Jersey nonprofits are using social media.
Community Food Bank of NJ (@CommFoodBankNJ)
The Community Food Bank thanks volunteer groups for food drives and days. They promote their major fundraising event (“The Blue Jean Ball”) along with their association with the national level Feeding America, and let their client organizations know about grant opportunities. The Food Bank also educates about hunger, and particularly that in New Jersey.
NJ Symphony (@njsymphony)
The NJ Symphony is fairly new to Twitter, but they already have over 300 followers. They “tweet” often letting their followers know about their concerts that are coming up soon and reporting on lots of other arts activities in NJ.
Turtle Back Zoo (@turtlebackzoo)
The Turtle Back Zoo has almost 2300 followers and is included on 138 lists. The zoo tweets often about events and things to do at the zoo. They are frequently listed on other people’s “followfriday” lists where people post who they recommend following on Twitter. The zoo is diligent about thanking those who mention them and this certainly endears them so they are mentioned again and again… and so every time they tweet, almost 2300 people may see what they have to say. It’s enough to make you want to go to the zoo!
Wild New Jersey (@WildNewJersey)
Wild New Jersey with almost 1400 followers tweets often about environmental issues and provides lots of links to promote advocacy on a wide range of issues.
Jubilee Center of Hoboken (link)
The Jubilee Center reports frequently about all of the activities going on at the center. There are always great pictures that make you want to be there. They also post about fundraising events, both upcoming and pictures of straight from live events. They use Facebook to thank individuals and businesses helping them.
St. Benedict’s Prep, Newark (link)
Almost 1600 people “like” St. Benedict’s on Facebook and they do a great job of keeping alumni up-to-date on sports and other accomplishments. There are lots of short entries with something that would make an alum smile for a moment and think kindly with fond memories of their alma mater. They also recognize grants and say thank you. St. Benedict’s gets it – they don’t “fundraise” on Facebook, but they do a great job of building and maintaining relationships.
Geraldine Dodge Foundation (blog.grdodge.org)
The Dodge Foundation has an excellent blog with many contributors. They blog about the areas they support, including education, the arts and the environment. They also tweet when they have a new article; people like me retweet the link and before you know it their blog has a good size audience that appreciates the time they take to write such interesting articles.
YouTube is huge and is really a requirement, not an option, for reaching people under 30. It is under-used by nonprofits and has an incredible power potential for arts organizations, for advocacy and for educating on important topics. Every successful fundraiser will tell you about the importance of storytelling and YouTube is by far the best place online for storytelling.
Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey (youtube.com/pcanj)
PCA-NJ makes excellent use of YouTube with professional education and advocacy-oriented videos. They are taking advantage of the special benefits for nonprofits that YouTube offers with their own channel complete with “Donate Now” capability.
I could go on forever but I think you get the idea. My next workshop is on September 15th and if you would like to sponsor one, let me know. I write about a wide range of issues of interest to nonprofits at my blog at marionconwaynonprofitconsultant.blogspot.com. Follow me on Twitter @MarionConway and perhaps you would “like” my Facebook page.
I am Rush Russell, the executive director for Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey. Our mission is to reduce the incidence of child abuse, in all its forms, in New Jersey. We’d like to do even better by working together to END child abuse in New Jersey. Since 1979, Prevent Child Abuse has worked in partnership with the State, nonprofit organizations, faith-based institutions, businesses, and the media to support evidence-based programs to prevent child abuse.
As a personal introduction to our organization and new blog, I’ve included a letter we recently sent to our new Governor, Chris Christie, that makes the case for prevention programs and shows why they are smart investments. As the state’s leaders wrestle with solutions to the budget deficit, we think it’s critical for them to understand how investments in prevention can save taxpayers money… while saving the lives of children.
To be successful, we need your support. Please contact us if you’d like to help. Everyone has a role to play to prevent child abuse.
Re: Letter of Support for Prevention Programs
Dear Mr. Christie:
Thank you for the opportunity to submit this information to you as the Governor Elect for the State of New Jersey. For the last thirty years, Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey has worked with the State of New Jersey to end child abuse through effective partnerships, including developing research-based interventions and coordinating the work of community providers to ensure quality implementation. We are New Jersey’s voice for a spectrum of nationally-acclaimed prevention programs, and as such, provide mandated training and technical assistance to support federal, state and locally funded prevention programs across the state. Our mission is to reduce the incidence of
child abuse in all its forms.
We recognize the significant financial shortfall the State is experiencing, appreciate the chance to address it responsibly, and hope to work with you and the State’s leaders to find appropriate solutions. To this end, we felt compelled to share information about the impact of child abuse on the NJ state budget and opportunities to more efficiently allocate resources in ways that could improve outcomes for New Jersey’s children and families and reduce taxpayer burdens for expensive crisis programs.
In conclusion, in the current environment of budget restraint, we cannot afford to reduce our commitment to Prevention. A shift in funding from “back end” intervention services to “front end” prevention services is cost efficient. We have made progress by institutionalizing the Division of Prevention as an integral part of the Department of Children and Families. Ensuring a strong prevention strategy is part of an effective solution for the improvement of DYFS. Child maltreatment prevention policies that invest in children will provide New Jersey with the greatest opportunity to enhance child development; support urban, suburban and rural communities; invest in education as children come to school ready to learn; impact crime and urban development; and have a profound effect on the health and productivity of future generations.
Please let me know if we can be of any assistance to you or your administration. We look forward to working with you.
Rush L. Russell
Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey
103 Church Street, Suite 210
New Brunswick, NJ 08901