15 Apr 5 Simple Ways to Keep Charlottesville-area Kids Safe
Child abuse prevention is a tough subject to talk about in any year, but especially after a year as tough as this last one. In 2020, over 4,000 children in the Charlottesville area were reported to local Child Protective Services for child abuse or neglect. It’s easy to assume that the responsibility of preventing the pain in these children’s lives lies with their parents or child protection social workers. However, social science research shows that parents and social workers are often the last line of support for kids in dire circumstances. Prevention of child abuse – not recognition or treatment of it after the fact – starts in communities. It starts with city and county leaders, school boards, faith leaders, youth sports coaches, day care providers, and thoughtful neighbors like you.
Preventing Child Abuse is Everyone’s Job
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, an opportunity to highlight the role we all can play to support parents and families. This month—and throughout the year as we consider child abuse prevention—our attention is best focused on prevention efforts that create healthier environments for children and foster confident, positive parenting.
The Center for Family Strengthening lists five protective factors that prevent child abuse in families. We will go through what each one means. Also, we will discuss how you as an ordinary citizen can strengthen the Charlottesville community to make it one where children are safe and nurtured.
1. Support Parental Resilience
All parents experience stress from time to time – whether it be from persistent poverty or a difficult-to-soothe baby. How parents respond to the stressor is much more important than the stressor itself. Successful parents are the ones who even in the midst of high stress experiences are able to call on inner reserves of hope and patience to respond to their kids in appropriate ways. Researchers call this resilience. You can help build parental resilience. Write a note or a text to a parent. Let them know you think they’re doing a great job despite the tough circumstances of a pandemic year. Here’s a great resource for discussing how to keep your family strong, even in the midst of stress.
2. Socially Connect with a Parent
People need people. Parents needs people who support them and their children. Several research studies demonstrate that high levels of emotional, informational, or spiritual support is associated with better parenting. Most importantly, parents who feel connected to others have more positive moods. They are also more responsive to one’s children, report higher parental satisfaction, and have lower levels of anger, anxiety and depression. You can let a parent know you are there for them. Offer to take them out on a socially distanced walk. Be a good listener as they talk about what struggles they are facing.
3. Provide Concrete Support to a Parent
Families do better when they live in communities that help them succeed. Partnering with parents to identify and access resources in the community may help prevent the stress that precipitates child maltreatment. Likewise, providing concrete supports helps prevent the unintended neglect that occurs when parents are unable to provide for their children.
4. Model Good Parenting Behavior
After a year of pandemic lock-down, parents are exhausted of being the only source of support for kids. Modeling good parenting is the reminder all parents need from adults who aren’t burned out. Whether it’s a niece or nephew, or a child from your faith community – get down on their level, look them in the eye and have a conversation. Or, if a boundary needs to be set, do it calmly and gently. If because of pandemic quarantining you can’t talk to a child, talk to their parents! Encourage exploration of parenting issues. Point out the resources available to everyone, such at the CDC Free Milestone Tracker App, the National Parent Help Line, or the ReadyKids Teen Crisis Hotline.
5. Promote the social and emotional development of kids
Children who feel loved and like they belong, are children who have a healthy bond with their parent or caregiver. A healthy bond is often built by both children and adults expressing emotions in a healthy way. Most importantly, research shows that early and appropriate interventions that focus on social-emotional development can help to mitigate the effects of negative experiences such as abuse and neglect. If you are a community group, faith community, or school – consider hosting a parenting discussion group. You can use this Need2Know Discussion Guide complete with facilitation tips from the Children’s Trust Fund Alliance to discuss how to boost a children’s social and emotional skills. Or, visit the STAR Kids Early Childhood Social and Emotional Resources page.
Spread the Word
In conclusion, anyone can prevent child abuse, even if they don’t have young children at home. For a printable version of this blog post to take to a local business or faith community, click here. Spread the word!