Perhaps you’ve seen blue pinwheels spinning in the green spaces of local businesses, parks, and community organizations. That’s because April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and the pinwheel is a symbol of the happy, healthy childhoods all children deserve.
Though often seen as a private matter, research shows that the impact of abuse and neglect extends far beyond the home. It causes a ripple effect of abuse and trauma throughout our communities and institutions.
Pickens County First Steps is all about creating a community where children are ready for school. Yet we know that abuse has particular impact on our schools. Fifty-six percent of children who tested “not ready” on 3rd grade standardized tests were victims of documented abuse or neglect. Those children are likely to fall behind, to drop out of school, to be unable to support their families, and to later abuse their own children. We believe that the cycle of abuse is preventable and this is one of the many reasons that early experiences matter! We also believe in the power of resilience. We know that even one loving, supportive relationship in a child’s life can help them overcome the effects of adverse childhood experiences.
Every child deserves a great childhood. This is something we can all agree upon. And if every child deserves a great childhood, then every person in our community has a part to play in creating great childhoods for all the children of our community.
You might be thinking, “What can I possibly do to prevent child abuse? What expertise do I possibly have to help a child become resilient?” We want to empower regular people you toward everyday intention. We don’t believe that child abuse prevention should be a separate part of our lives. Rather, we believe that difference-making should be woven into the fabric of our everyday rhythms.
Here are four simple and meaningful ways you can help prevent child abuse, right where you are.
1. Pay attention.
To the mom or caregiver in the grocery store at 5:30 p.m. with four kids and circles under her eyes. The one who’s running on fumes and has a toddler falling apart in the checkout line. Notice her. Tell her she’s doing a great job. Buy her a cold drink from the checkout cooler. Your compassion may provide the crucial pause she needs to make it through the day without taking her stress out on her children.
2. Care for new moms (and dads.)
Every new parent is vulnerable to breakdown. When parents experience ongoing stress, chronic exhaustion or postpartum depression, they’re far more prone to striking out at their children. New parents are weary. And single parents are particularly at risk. This is why we need one another. Take them a meal. Do their laundry. Offer to babysit. When you lighten the load of a new parent, you help prevent child abuse.
3. Give generously. What do you have that someone else needs?
Parents both above and below the poverty line suffer from financial stress that piles on top of everyday burdens, threatening the stability of their family and the stability of their emotional health. When that happens, the safety and security of children are also at risk. There are families in need all around you. Do you have resources that can ease someone’s burden?
4. Know that just one supportive relationship can literally change a child’s life. Or a parent’s.
What’s the #1 way we can support resilience in children? The answer may surprise you. Relationships. Research shows that the difference between a really bad childhood and being able to overcome that, and a traumatic childhood and someone not being able to overcome that, all boils down to having a healthy connection with a supportive person. Relationships provide the love, support, and connection every child needs to help combat the effects of stress, whether it’s the stress of daily life or experiences that are traumatic.
And the same holds true for parents and caregivers. You might be the one person that caregiver has. Seek to listen, to be a shoulder to cry on. Speak life-giving, encouraging words. Believe in them. Help them. You are more than a teacher, a coach, a neighbor, a Sunday School teacher, a nursery volunteer. You are a life-giver and possibly even a life-saver.
Let’s partner together, in everyday ways, as we work toward safe, loving, responsive homes and communities for our youngest learners and their caregivers.
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