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.
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.
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.
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.
Child Passenger Safety Week is coming up here in New Jersey, so to help ensure your favorite little traveler is secure in your back seat, we’re taking a look at some of the newest information regarding booster car seat safety.
NBC’s Today Show recently aired a segment on booster car seat ratings with some surprising revelations. Quite a few popular brands tested poorly in the 2010 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety assessments. Eddie Bauer, Evenflo, and Safety 1st were among those with models on the “Not Recommended” list — but interestingly, they also had models on the “Best Bet” list! How can there be such a difference from one model to the next? It all comes down to the fit.
A booster car seat is designed to bridge the gap between the five-point harness of the convertible car seat and the adult-sized standard vehicle seat belt. Children who are not quite 4’9″ tall need a little “boost” to bring them up to the proper height for the adult belt to be effective. A correctly-installed booster seat guides the lap belt flat across the child’s upper thighs (not the belly) and the shoulder belt across the chest (not the neck). A proper fit means a reduced risk of serious injury in a crash, so getting it right is essential.
Unfortunately, evaluators have found that the fit changes from one vehicle to the next, and this is what the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety took into consideration when compiling their 2010 recommendations. Its “Best Bet” booster car seats are most likely to be compatible with any car, van, or SUV’s seat belt system. “Good Bet” boosters are compatible in almost as many vehicles, and “Not Recommended” boosters are not compatible with many vehicles. While a booster seat on the “Not Recommended” list may work wonderfully in the roomy Dodge Durango, the same seat may perform terribly in the compact Honda Fit — check out the full list.
When shopping for a booster car seat for your little passenger, it’s important to keep your vehicle model in mind. You’ll want to make sure that the booster you’re considering fits properly in your car and secures your child correctly and comfortably. Bring your child to the store with you to demo the seat before making a purchase whenever possible. Many baby gear stores will allow you to pull your vehicle curbside and install a floor model before making a decision.
Once you’ve invested in a quality booster seat, consider attending a car seat safety check to be sure you’ve installed it correctly (only 1 in 4 car seats are!). Many police and fire departments offer this free service, or you can visit the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety website for an ongoing list of FREE car seat safety checks throughout the state. It takes just a few minutes to get the fit right, and it may just turn out to be a lifesaving move.
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.