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.
April is national “Child Abuse Prevention month”. Having children is certainly one of life’s greatest joys; but raising children can also be stressful, even for those with the best information and support. Sometimes, overwhelming stress and a lack of knowledge about child health and development can lead to child abuse and neglect, and it can happen in any community, anywhere. We all have a role to prevent child abuse from ever happening….but when we fail, our children, our communities and our country pay a steep price. Victims of child abuse have a greater chance of academic failure, substance abuse and mental health issues, chronic health conditions, juvenile delinquency and criminal behavior. In economic terms, child abuse costs American taxpayers more than $80 billion a year to fix something after the fact….that could have been prevented. The good news is we know how to prevent child abuse and we are making some progress…..but we can and need to do much better.
However, it’s challenging to build support for the cause of preventing child abuse and neglect. Some people shy away from the issue for various reasons, including discomfort with the tragedy of child abuse, blaming “bad parents” who would do such a thing, and that child abuse “doesn’t happen in my neighborhood”. I was meeting recently with a prominent political leader in our state and he noted that he also served on the Board of an organization involving “therapy dogs.” They had just received a donation of several million dollars from someone…who just loved dogs. We acknowledged that the cause of child abuse prevention was unlikely to see that level of support, for all of the reasons above. (And I love dogs too). But don’t our children deserve better….?
In speaking recently with the founder of a national philanthropy, which supports child abuse prevention as a primary goal, he noted that “there is really no direct constituency for the cause of child abuse prevention”, compared to that of other nonprofit causes, such as universities, hospitals, faith-based organizations, or specific health issues. So it makes it much harder to generate awareness and support for the issue ….and the opportunity to prevent abuse before it ever happens.
On April 2, Prevent Child Abuse America, with Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey as the spokesperson, was invited to ring the opening bell at the NASDAQ stock exchange to raise awareness about April as Child Abuse Prevention Month and about an event happening in Times Square on April 16. The invitation from NASDAQ, the second-largest stock exchange in the United States, highlights the understanding that investments in childhood health and development have been shown to be an effective tool for economic development, with proven returns to American taxpayers and economic productivity.
The event on April 16 will feature Miss America, Mallory Hagan, who is championing the cause of preventing child sexual abuse in our country. The event will create the largest “pinwheel garden” in the country, in Times Square, using the small toy of the pinwheel as a symbol of a happy and carefree childhood…and of child abuse prevention.
Hopefully, events like these during Child Abuse Prevention Month, to raise awareness about the cause of prevention, can help us understand that we all have a role play to prevent child abuse from ever happening to our children. How? By helping parents who are friends or family when they face the stress of parenting; By encouraging the values of healthy, respectful relationships and empathy for our children; By supporting our neighbors and faith communities to help families who may be struggling; And by telling our policymakers that it’s time to make child health and development a national priority, equal to others that make our country so great.
On the same day as the NASDAQ event, NJ newspapers reported the death of a 4-month old infant in NJ, who was shaken because he wouldn’t stop crying. The baby’s father was quoted as saying that the baby would still be alive if the parents had received “parenting lessons.” A number of hospitals across the state have recently begun an intensive program that provides a powerful reminder to new parents about the stress of a crying baby, and how parents can cope. It has been shown to be effective in dramatically reducing the incidence of shaken-baby syndrome in rigorous evaluations. However, so far, only a small group of hospitals have adopted it.
We know how to prevent abuse …but we can and need to do a better job. For more information on our work visit www.preventchildabusenj.org.
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.
My colleagues and I often joke about how we leave work every day to go home to our real job: being a parent. The reality is that we never stop being parents even during a busy work day. Those of us who either choose or find it necessary to work outside of the home often juggle a wide range of feelings that come along with the “work life balance”. Feeling guilty, tired, stressed out, and even torn about our decision to be in the workplace can take a toll us on as a parent.
Our children need us to maintain strong emotional connections and be available for their practical needs. While we focus on what we need to do at work, we also manage those calls from our child’s school, doctor’s appointments and parent/teacher conferences between meetings, and worry about how our son or daughter is adjusting to a new school or child care center.
So how do you balance these two worlds? Mayo Clinic says that as long as you are working, juggling the demands of career and personal life will probably be an ongoing challenge. They offer some ideas, including the following:
These are great suggestions but balancing work-life issues is an on-going process. Trying to divide your time between being a good employee and a good parent can be very stressful. We should all periodically review our priorities and create a reasonable plan on how to balance our lives.
The heat is on throughout the nation with temperatures well into the hundreds in parts of the country. While many often look forward to this time of year (sun, surf and swimming), the scorching temperatures can pose many risks for children, including overheating inside a car.
I have read many articles related to this topic and very often, this turns out to be a horrific accident on the part of a distracted parent who is trying to get somewhere quickly and forgets that the child is in the car. The other common case is a parent who thinks that “a few minutes” in the car while they run inside to pick up something will not cause harm.
According to Safe Kids USA, each year an average of 36 children die from hyperthermia after being left unattended in a vehicle. As hot as it is outside, within 10 minutes the inside temperature of a vehicle will be almost 20 degrees hotter than the outside temperature. After 30 minutes, the vehicle’s temperature will be 34 degrees hotter.
Prevention education is the best advice I can give. Here are some safety tips from us here at Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey to prevent a tragedy like this from happening:
For more tips, check out my “Summer Safety Tips” episode of our podcast here at Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey: