Facing — and Ending — Child Abuse in North Carolina


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There’s a common story about preventing child abuse that goes something like this:

A man was walking along a mighty river one day when he heard a cry for help. He saw a child drowning. He climbed into a boat and rescued the child. The next day the man saved two children from the river and the next day three children. Soon there were so many children in the river that the man’s entire village had to work day and night to save them. Even so, many children were lost.

You may be asking yourself at this point, “Why don’t the villagers walk upstream, find out where the children are coming from and keep them from falling into the river in the first place?”

That’s just what Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina and other agencies like it are doing. These organizations seek to understand why child abuse happens, as well as its immediate and long-term effects, and how to prevent child abuse from happening in the first place.

Effects of Child Abuse on Adult Health

In 1995 Kaiser Permanente worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct a study of 9,000 of its customers. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, more commonly referenced as “ACES,” asked adult participants about their exposure to adverse childhood experiences, which include trauma such as:

  • Psychological, physical or sexual abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Neglect
  • Caregivers with addiction problems and mental health concerns

Nearly two-thirds of participants reported at least one adverse childhood experience. One in five reported three or more. The impact on their adult health was substantial. Adults who experienced childhood traumas were more likely to have health issues like diabetes, obesity, addiction, depression and heart disease. They’re also more likely to repeat the cycle of abuse in their own families.

Cost of Child Abuse

Child abuse hurts our hearts, but it also hurts our wallets. Kids who suffer abuse are more likely to need intervention due to poor academic performance or drug abuse, for example. An economic analysis released by Prevent Child Abuse America in May 2012 showed that child abuse costs North Carolina more than $2 billion and the U.S. more than $80 billion each year.

At Home in North Carolina

In 2015, there were more than 130,000 reports of suspected child abuse in North Carolina, according to PCANC. Still, it’s easy to tell ourselves it’s happening somewhere else — not in our own neighborhoods, schools or even homes. Sharon Hirsch, CEO of PCANC, points out that the ACES study participants were overwhelmingly white, middle class and educated.

“Child abuse and neglect happens way more often than we like to think,” Hirsch says. “Stress is a major factor in child abuse. It happens at all socio-economic levels. You can be from a very wealthy family and still lack a social support system or adequate parenting skills.”

A Dream for the Future

Hirsch has a dream for the future of North Carolina families. She points out that most new parents take birthing classes to prepare them for the first few hours or days of parenthood. She would also love to see them signing up for parenting classes, where they can learn about developmental stages, techniques for handling tantrums and other important tools they can use during the next 18 years. She hopes those parents will reach out to strong social support systems or services, such as faith communities, nonprofit organizations, schools or even neighbors for help.

“Know who your people are and who you can call when you need help,” Hirsch says. “Being part of a parents’ support network is necessary. No one should parent alone.”

Hirsch also hopes more people will recognize the role they can play, whether it’s helping a mom at the grocery store, investing in parenting education resources, or creating more family-friendly work environments and policies.

“Every time you reach out to a parent or child, you’re strengthening our community,” Hirsch says. “It really does take a village.”

5 Protective Factors for Healthy Families

You can help prevent child abuse in your home and community. These five factors bolster the health and well-being of the entire family.

1. Consistent parenting. Kids need respectful communication with adults, consistent rules and the chance to practice independence safely.

2. Concrete support. Families who can meet their own basic physical needs — or access support services — are better positioned to provide for a child’s safety and well-being.

3. Resilient parents. Parents who can cope when things aren’t going well are better able to handle the everyday stresses of raising children.

4. Social connections. Families with a supportive social network find it easier to juggle life — with all its complications.

5. Social and emotional competence. Kids need positive relationships with caring adults in order to build confidence and form healthy relationships in the future.

Plant a Pinwheel Garden

Show your support for healthy North Carolina kids and families. Plant a Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina pinwheel garden during National Child Abuse Prevention month in April. Find out more at preventchildabusenc.org.

Christa C. Hogan is a freelance writer living in Raleigh with her husband and three sons. She is also a former foster parent.


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