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.
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.
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.
Former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky has been accused of indecent assault on a 15-year-old boy over a four year period, along with several other counts of sex crimes. According to statements in the indictment, an assistant coach witnessed one these events and internal staff reports escalated into what can only be described as appalling, head-in-the-sand decisions at the University that allowed the crimes to continue.
Unfortunately, this case of child sexual abuse underscores the failure of our society and its leaders to confront this horrific crime and take strong steps to prevent any child from being a victim in the future. Protecting our children from harm is an adult responsibility, and perhaps the single most important job – not just for parents but for all adults in our society. In this case, many adults at Penn State failed horribly in that most fundamental responsibility. Tragically, their fear and inability to act resulted in more children being abused.
Child sexual abuse can be prevented – by educating parents and other adults in the community about the true facts and giving them the tools they need to protect our children. At Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey, we are working in partnership with leaders from every part of the State to develop stronger strategies to prevent child sexual abuse before it ever happens. We are working with broad coalitions from three New Jersey communities to spread the word about effective prevention policies and practices and engage as many citizens as possible in the cause of prevention. We have seen ENOUGH ABUSE and it is time we take the steps NOW to stop it.
Find out what you can do to prevent child sexual abuse by contacting us at 1-800-CHILDREN, or visit us online at www.preventchildabusenj.org.
At a recent neighborhood barbecue, a mom raised the question: “What is the right age for a child to stay at home alone?” This mom had two children ages 7 and 9, and wanted to leave them home alone to exercise in the morning for one hour while they were still sleeping. Of course, this question raised all kinds of comments and a wide range of opinions. As the social worker at the table, everyone looked at me for the “correct” answer. The fact is, there isn’t an exact age when a child is ready. The laws in New Jersey do not specify an age when a child is considered old enough to stay home alone. The National SAFEKIDS Campaign recommends that no child under the age of 12 be left at home alone; however, parents must make an individual decision based on many factors, including the child’s age and maturity level. All children are not the same. Some 12-year-olds may be ready to stay home alone, but not all will be.
To determine if they may be ready, consider the following: how is your child at handling emergencies, following instructions, and behaving appropriately? Do you still feel the need to check on him/her or to re-direct his/her behavior? If so, then s/he may not be ready to be left on their own. Also, how does your child feel about being left alone? If they seem worried or frightened then they just aren’t ready yet. Keep in mind that even if you feel they may be able to handle staying home alone, it doesn’t mean they can take care of a younger sibling. That requires additional responsibilities that your child may not be ready for yet.
Before you take the big step of leaving your child alone, make sure you review with your child what to do in case of an emergency. Practice with your child a variety of “What would you do if…?” scenarios to make sure they understand how to handle different situations. Discuss your expectations regarding what is allowed while you are away – can they watch TV, use the computer, answer the phone, have friends over…?
Other things to consider when deciding if your child is ready to be left alone is where you live. Are there neighbors nearby you know and trust to help your child in case of an emergency? Do you live on a busy street with lots of traffic? Is there a lot of crime? You and your child need to feel that the surroundings are safe.
Before you leave your child alone for extended periods of time, take a trial run. See how they handle being left alone for 15-20 minutes while you run to the store or pick up a sibling. Start out during the day. If they are able to handle this, then you can gradually leave them alone for longer periods of time.
When you are ready to leave your child alone make sure you leave emergency numbers (doctor, ambulance, fire department, etc.) in a place where they can see them and easily locate, such as on the refrigerator or by the phone. Always leave a phone number (land and cell) where you can be reached, as well as an emergency contact such as a relative or neighbor in case your cell fails or they can’t reach you. Call home frequently to check on your child.
While I do admit I sometimes dream of the day when I’ll no longer have to pay a babysitter, I know those days will come soon enough! Children grow up quickly so enjoy the time you have with them now.
For additional guidelines and things to consider in making this difficult decision, download a copy of the PCA-NJ “Is My Child Ready to Stay Home Alone?” (PDF) tip sheet.
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: