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.
Recognizing that creating a family-friendly workplace is an underlying factor in prevention, we celebrated a special “Kids Day” here at Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey. Employees were invited to bring their children in for a fun day of learning and real-life experience appropriate for all ages.
We kicked off the day with an introduction from Executive Director Rush Russell, who spoke to the children about the importance of “practice” — just as kids practice their ABCs and riding a bicycle, parents practice every day to be the best parents they can be and show their families how much they are appreciated and loved.
After a snack and quick introductions to each other, the children learned a little bit about the work that Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey does throughout the state, such as our home visitation, early childhood and education, training, and more. Each of these pieces all fit together to form our organization, and everyone works together to accomplish great things. We also spoke about areas such as “Finance” and “Human Resources” — the areas that work inside the organization to support everyone as they do their jobs.
Having learned about the different areas of our organization, the children played a game where they stood by the name of the department they believed their parent or guardian worked within.
Later in the morning, all of the children learning about podcasting and how the Internet has allowed organizations like Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey to share tips and knowledge with people all across the state, and even the whole country! Each child stepped up to the microphone to tell us a little bit about why being a kid is so great, who their role models are, what they had learned so far about being kind to and careful with babies, and more. Sometimes kids really do say the darndest things, and you learn just how much of a positive impact you truly have on their lives.
Following a special pizza lunch back with their parents, the children regrouped for a group art project. Using magazine cut-outs and other materials, the children created pinwheels and other designs that represented a safe, happy, and healthy childhood.
We concluded the day by listening to the final product of the podcast the children recorded earlier in the day, complete with appropriate “Awww!”s and smiles. The children showed their parents their art projects, and helped out until the end of the day.