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.
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.
In President Obama’s fiscal year 2010 budget there was a proposed $8.5 billion over 10 years for states to provide new evidence-based home visitation programs to low income families. Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey is the New Jersey Affiliate for two of the National Evidence-Based Home Visitation Program Models — Healthy Families America and Parents As Teachers.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that traditional pediatric care is often based on the assumption that parents have the basic knowledge and resources to provide a nurturing, safe environment and to provide for the emotional, physical, developmental, and health care needs of their infants and young children. Unfortunately, many families have insufficient knowledge of parenting skills and an inadequate support system of friends, extended family, or professionals to help with these vital tasks. Home-visitation programs offer an effective mechanism to ensure ongoing parental education, social support, and linkage with public and private community services.
So what do we want? We want to go to scale. We all understand the importance of these types of programs, but we are only serving a small number of families compared to the families in need of these services.
Our question to you is this — how do we effectively advocate taking these important programs to scale, and how can we work together? The evidence is there. All we need to do is spread the word. What tools can we provide you with, and what suggestions do you have for us? We would love to hear from you!