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.
The first week of Child Abuse Prevention Month 2011 has New Jersey off to a great start! Pictures, events, and stories are pouring in to us, so we wanted to share back some of what you all are doing out there along with us.
New Brunswick was gracious enough to fly our Child Abuse Prevention Month banner above George and Church Street, letting all New Jersians know that it is their turn to make a difference in the lives of children.
Mile Square Early Learning Center in Hoboken sent us this fantastic image of a pinwheel display with banners:
The Kappa Delta Sorority at TCNJ held their Shamrock ‘N Run 5k back at the end of March at Mercer County park, and sent along the following pictures:
We can’t wait to get your pictures and stories! Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can promote all the great things happening throughout the state. Any picture you send also gets you entered into our “Pinwheel Contest” — you can win a coffee & donut breakfast as well as a $100 gift certificate toward next year’s Child Abuse Prevention Month materials!
On January 26, 2011, the NJ Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a parent “slapping their child” did not constitute “child abuse”. The court’s ruling overturned an action by the NJ Division on Youth and Family Services to remove a teenager from her father and stepmother’s home in 2008. The father admitted that his wife had slapped his daughter and took her earnings from a part-time job to pay a TV cable bill.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that an occasional slap, “although hardly admirable…does not fit a common sense prohibition against excessive corporal punishment”.
In general, the NJ definition for physical child abuse states that a parent’s punishment of a child would need to lead to a serious injury to be classified as child abuse, so the court’s actual decision isn’t the story.
However, the court’s comment that the act is “hardly admirable” is important for two reasons.
First, research overwhelmingly shows that there are alternatives to spanking (or in this case “slapping a child in the face”) that are more effective in raising and disciplining a child — which is the point.
Striking a child has been shown to increase negative behaviors, including aggression, in children. When someone is hit, whether it’s an adult or a child, a natural reaction is hostility, fear, anger, and resentment. There is research that points out that children experience these same emotions and it affects their future behavior and attitudes — the same as it would an adult.
Second, research also shows that hitting a child as a disciplinary measure simply doesn’t work. It may change an immediate behavior due to the child’s fear of being hit again, but research shows that children who are hit are more likely to be misbehave after five years than children who weren’t hit.
Even supporters of spanking concede that the emotional and mental state of the parent can negatively, and quite harshly so, affect the child on the receiving end. Organizations such as the Family Research Council have noted, even amidst their other recommendations, that “physical abuse by an angry uncontrolled parent will leave lasting emotional wounds and cultivate bitterness and resentment within a child,” and further, “reactive impulsive hitting after losing control due to anger is unquestionably the wrong way for a parent to use corporal punishment“.
Do you think the mom of this teenager who was slapped was administering “balanced” and “prudent” use of spanking, or is it more likely that she was angry, reactive, or impulsive? How many parents are cool, calm and collected when they reach out and spank their children?
The reality is many parents resort to spanking their children out of frustration, when a child has pushed their buttons and refused to obey, with the result being an impulsive smack “to get the child’s attention”. Usually, the parent has simply run out of patience and believes they have the right to hit their children if they want to. Additionally, a parent who chooses to spank may come to rely on it more frequently to get a child’s attention, and use more severe spanking as the child grows older… and bigger.
It may also be useful to realize that parents choose to hit their children, in part, because while the children are small, they are unlikely to hit back. Not too many parents spank their six-foot-tall sons. In addition, parents choose to spank because they lack the patience or education to use more positive — and effective — parenting techniques, or they were hit as a child and simply repeat their parent’s behavior.
I asked a fellow parent, who supports spanking his son as a disciplinary measure, if he thinks spanking his children strengthens his child’s respect for him as a father or mother… or whether it might fuel hostility or anger in the child. The answer: “Spanking teaches my child to respect me” (because if they don’t, they get spanked again…).
There is a better and more effective way to raise children than resorting to hitting your child when they don’t behave. It requires patience — a boatload of patience, sometimes — along with knowledge about other ways that work better. For more information about positive discipline, check out some of our “Tips For Parents“.
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.