Prevent Child Abuse NJ would like to share a story to paint a picture of why we work tirelessly every day to bring child abuse prevention efforts to all parents, caregivers and professionals across NJ.
January 8th, 2009 a beautiful baby boy named Joey entered this world in a hospital in NJ. His family was overjoyed with his arrival and their new addition to their family. His grandmother, Amy*, was thrilled to have a grandson she could dote on.
Two months later, Joey was taken to the emergency room with bleeding on his brain and behind his eyes. His head was swollen and they weren’t sure if Joey could see or hear. He was a victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) at the hands of his father; his father whom had also been abused as a child until adopted by Amy when he was 6 years old. Amy is the proud grandmother of Joey, yet also the mother of the abuser. This incident forever changed their lives as Amy now works each day to protect Joey, who is now a SBS survivor and just turned 4 years old this January.
In a complex story involving family dynamics, devastation and an intense determination to protect her grandson, Amy has become an active volunteer and strong voice to prevent shaken baby syndrome and infant abuse. She reached out to PCANJ as soon as she learned the Period of PURPLE crying program was coming to New Jersey; a program designed to prevent SBS.
In 2012, Prevent Child Abuse NJ (PCANJ) launched a shaken baby syndrome/infant abuse prevention program called the Period of PURPLE crying in 2 New Jersey hospitals: Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston and Newark Beth Israel in Newark. This program is effective at helping parents understand newborn crying and also teaching them about how to cope with the stress of a crying baby. Anyone who has ever been around a crying baby (add in no sleep for weeks with seemingly no end in sight!) can relate to the frustration of not being able to calm the baby down.
Fortunately, the PURPLE program teaches parents there IS an end in sight and that this is a period that all babies go through in their development. The cost is $2 per family for the hospital; an investment we think is worth it to save a child like Joey from having to ensure a lifetime of surviving the injuries from SBS.
Amy wrote: “As difficult as this is for me to re-live, I feel it is absolutely necessary, in the hopes of preventing another family from experiencing the tragic results of SBS. I’m all too familiar with the affects of child abuse on generations, and therefore, am willing to help in any way possible”.
PCANJ wants to bring this effort to more hospitals in NJ and with your support we can show that Prevention Matters… because Joey matters.
To support the Period of PURPLE crying program in New Jersey please visit our Period of PURPLE site.
If you are interested in knitting purple newborn caps for PCANJ’s Click for Babies in NJ campaign, please visit our Click for Babies site.
If you or someone you knows works in a NJ hospital that may be interested in bringing the Period of PURPLE crying to families who deliver there, please contact Gina Hernandez.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.
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.
On January 26, 2011, the NJ Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a parent “slapping their child” did not constitute “child abuse”. The court’s ruling overturned an action by the NJ Division on Youth and Family Services to remove a teenager from her father and stepmother’s home in 2008. The father admitted that his wife had slapped his daughter and took her earnings from a part-time job to pay a TV cable bill.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that an occasional slap, “although hardly admirable…does not fit a common sense prohibition against excessive corporal punishment”.
In general, the NJ definition for physical child abuse states that a parent’s punishment of a child would need to lead to a serious injury to be classified as child abuse, so the court’s actual decision isn’t the story.
However, the court’s comment that the act is “hardly admirable” is important for two reasons.
First, research overwhelmingly shows that there are alternatives to spanking (or in this case “slapping a child in the face”) that are more effective in raising and disciplining a child — which is the point.
Striking a child has been shown to increase negative behaviors, including aggression, in children. When someone is hit, whether it’s an adult or a child, a natural reaction is hostility, fear, anger, and resentment. There is research that points out that children experience these same emotions and it affects their future behavior and attitudes — the same as it would an adult.
Second, research also shows that hitting a child as a disciplinary measure simply doesn’t work. It may change an immediate behavior due to the child’s fear of being hit again, but research shows that children who are hit are more likely to be misbehave after five years than children who weren’t hit.
Even supporters of spanking concede that the emotional and mental state of the parent can negatively, and quite harshly so, affect the child on the receiving end. Organizations such as the Family Research Council have noted, even amidst their other recommendations, that “physical abuse by an angry uncontrolled parent will leave lasting emotional wounds and cultivate bitterness and resentment within a child,” and further, “reactive impulsive hitting after losing control due to anger is unquestionably the wrong way for a parent to use corporal punishment“.
Do you think the mom of this teenager who was slapped was administering “balanced” and “prudent” use of spanking, or is it more likely that she was angry, reactive, or impulsive? How many parents are cool, calm and collected when they reach out and spank their children?
The reality is many parents resort to spanking their children out of frustration, when a child has pushed their buttons and refused to obey, with the result being an impulsive smack “to get the child’s attention”. Usually, the parent has simply run out of patience and believes they have the right to hit their children if they want to. Additionally, a parent who chooses to spank may come to rely on it more frequently to get a child’s attention, and use more severe spanking as the child grows older… and bigger.
It may also be useful to realize that parents choose to hit their children, in part, because while the children are small, they are unlikely to hit back. Not too many parents spank their six-foot-tall sons. In addition, parents choose to spank because they lack the patience or education to use more positive — and effective — parenting techniques, or they were hit as a child and simply repeat their parent’s behavior.
I asked a fellow parent, who supports spanking his son as a disciplinary measure, if he thinks spanking his children strengthens his child’s respect for him as a father or mother… or whether it might fuel hostility or anger in the child. The answer: “Spanking teaches my child to respect me” (because if they don’t, they get spanked again…).
There is a better and more effective way to raise children than resorting to hitting your child when they don’t behave. It requires patience — a boatload of patience, sometimes — along with knowledge about other ways that work better. For more information about positive discipline, check out some of our “Tips For Parents“.