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.
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.
This past weekend, one of the latest Facebook trends picked up traction in the New Jersey area: switching your user profile picture to that of a cartoon character. You would often see the image change accompanied by something resembling the following message:
In support of child abuse prevention, change your Facebook profile picture to a cartoon character from your childhood. Until Monday, December 6th, there should be no human faces on Facebook, but an invasion of memories. Join the fight against child abuse, and invite your friends to do the same!
The trend was large enough to be briefly picked up by mainstream media outlets, but if your friends and family changed their images without passing along the accompanying message, you may have been left scratching your head.
As we often talk about with regard to Internet safety for children, it is important to know that anything you type online can and almost certainly will remain there indefinitely. While this is a concern, it simultaneously allows us to dig back and track down the original source for trends and campaigns like this.
The website Know Your Meme (warning: site content may be inappropriate for children) tentatively pins the original trend back to Facebook users in Greece and Cyprus, where the idea was to indeed switch out user images for cartoon characters, but with the goal simply being an innocent game to remove all actual human faces from Facebook for a few days.
As with most “memes” (think of them as exaggerated games of telephone that mutate and take on their own form with each passing day, with the “joke” being to get as many people to regurgitate it as possible), it transformed into an awareness campaign for child abuse prevention. Everything about the “game” remained the same from its Greek origins, except for that key point – assigning a genuine cause to it, albeit with an extremely loose connection.
That is one way in which social networking and media have really changed how our society reacts to and gets involved with campaigns. All it takes is one clever idea, a few friends to get it going, and anyone in the world can potentially change the way we view an issue. For that, we are thankful. Child abuse is a horrible crime, and one that we know can be prevented. We work every day with families, educators, and political leaders across the state to make sure that every child is safe, nurtured, and encouraged to learn. Prevention is the key to future success for these children.
And that is precisely why we would love to see all New Jerseyans get involved. There is so much more we can do. Changing your profile picture on Facebook is but one step along the way. The connection between a cartoon character and child abuse prevention is not a particularly strong one without the additional exposition (in fact, many users have been changing their profile pictures completely oblivious to the intentions of the larger movement), so we encourage everyone to broadcast the message loud and proud: child abuse CAN be prevented, and we can all be a part of that prevention. Simple things like reading to your child and learning how to manage temperaments throughout changing developmental stages can go a long way with creating that lifelong bond, and set the path to healthy relationships and successful parenting.
If you wish to join in and showcase your commitment to child abuse prevention, we recommend you think about some concrete ways that you can support the families around you. Visit our website and consider some of the ways we encourage families to get involved in their community. You might also consider changing your image to that of a pinwheel, which evokes memories of a carefree childhood. Each April, we celebrate Child Abuse Prevention Month and use the pinwheel as a symbol for these types of childhoods that we wish for and aim to create for everyone in New Jersey.
As a final note, it is expected that with any well-intentioned campaign on the Internet, there will be someone who wants to rain on the parade. There is a good chance that, if you have not already, you will see follow-up posts noting that the campaign was actually constructed by pedophiles to lure children into exposing their true identity (with the train of thought being that a child is more apt to go with an image of Spongebob than Betty Boop, showcasing their true age in the process). It is important to note that this, as we have seen by tracking down its original source, is absolutely false. There are far too many other ways in which an online predator would be looking for this type of information, and we know the ways in which they act and “groom” their potential victims – an area that Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey is actively participating in new research for additional preventative measures and programs.
The following is an entry in our “Guest Author” series on our official blog here at Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey. Periodically, we will bring on leading members of the nonprofit world and its associated communities to discuss current trends, news, and best-practices. Our first guest post comes to us from Marion Conway, nonprofit consultant, and speaks to the benefits of social networking for nonprofit organizations here in New Jersey.
Nonprofits across the country are learning about the power of social media to build relationships with existing supporters, and to make new ones. Notice I said supporters – not donors. Social Media is used for so much more than fundraising, and in fact it can only be used effectively for fundraising once you have a solid presence and following. That takes time and energy – but guess what? – it can also be fun. The power of social media is its viral and interactive nature. It isn’t just about you getting your message out. It is about communicating with each other and others freely spreading your message.
Here are some ways a wide spectrum of New Jersey nonprofits are using social media.
Community Food Bank of NJ (@CommFoodBankNJ)
The Community Food Bank thanks volunteer groups for food drives and days. They promote their major fundraising event (“The Blue Jean Ball”) along with their association with the national level Feeding America, and let their client organizations know about grant opportunities. The Food Bank also educates about hunger, and particularly that in New Jersey.
NJ Symphony (@njsymphony)
The NJ Symphony is fairly new to Twitter, but they already have over 300 followers. They “tweet” often letting their followers know about their concerts that are coming up soon and reporting on lots of other arts activities in NJ.
Turtle Back Zoo (@turtlebackzoo)
The Turtle Back Zoo has almost 2300 followers and is included on 138 lists. The zoo tweets often about events and things to do at the zoo. They are frequently listed on other people’s “followfriday” lists where people post who they recommend following on Twitter. The zoo is diligent about thanking those who mention them and this certainly endears them so they are mentioned again and again… and so every time they tweet, almost 2300 people may see what they have to say. It’s enough to make you want to go to the zoo!
Wild New Jersey (@WildNewJersey)
Wild New Jersey with almost 1400 followers tweets often about environmental issues and provides lots of links to promote advocacy on a wide range of issues.
Jubilee Center of Hoboken (link)
The Jubilee Center reports frequently about all of the activities going on at the center. There are always great pictures that make you want to be there. They also post about fundraising events, both upcoming and pictures of straight from live events. They use Facebook to thank individuals and businesses helping them.
St. Benedict’s Prep, Newark (link)
Almost 1600 people “like” St. Benedict’s on Facebook and they do a great job of keeping alumni up-to-date on sports and other accomplishments. There are lots of short entries with something that would make an alum smile for a moment and think kindly with fond memories of their alma mater. They also recognize grants and say thank you. St. Benedict’s gets it – they don’t “fundraise” on Facebook, but they do a great job of building and maintaining relationships.
Geraldine Dodge Foundation (blog.grdodge.org)
The Dodge Foundation has an excellent blog with many contributors. They blog about the areas they support, including education, the arts and the environment. They also tweet when they have a new article; people like me retweet the link and before you know it their blog has a good size audience that appreciates the time they take to write such interesting articles.
YouTube is huge and is really a requirement, not an option, for reaching people under 30. It is under-used by nonprofits and has an incredible power potential for arts organizations, for advocacy and for educating on important topics. Every successful fundraiser will tell you about the importance of storytelling and YouTube is by far the best place online for storytelling.
Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey (youtube.com/pcanj)
PCA-NJ makes excellent use of YouTube with professional education and advocacy-oriented videos. They are taking advantage of the special benefits for nonprofits that YouTube offers with their own channel complete with “Donate Now” capability.
I could go on forever but I think you get the idea. My next workshop is on September 15th and if you would like to sponsor one, let me know. I write about a wide range of issues of interest to nonprofits at my blog at marionconwaynonprofitconsultant.blogspot.com. Follow me on Twitter @MarionConway and perhaps you would “like” my Facebook page.