April is Child Abuse Prevention Month
This month is Child Abuse Prevention Month. For the past 35 years, since the first national designation by President Ronald Reagan, April has been a time to recognize that child abuse and neglect is a problem in every state and community in our country.
It is also a time to remember that each of us can make a difference and actually take steps to prevent child abuse.
Research shows that two significant risk factors for incidents of child abuse and neglect are parental stress and social isolation.
Stress is a reaction to a situation where a person feels threatened or anxious.
People can stress over positive things, such as preparing for a wedding, or negative things, such as dealing with a tragic situation.
The symptoms of stress may be physical or emotional. Social isolation, which is different than being alone, is the absence of social relationships of any meaning beyond brief encounters that we have in our daily lives.
Social isolation can lead to feelings of lower self-worth, loneliness, depression, and other physical and mental health conditions.
A parent who feels socially isolated often does not have a network of friends or family to assist them when they are faced with challenges, which can compound their stress. You can actually help prevent child abuse by supporting a parent and helping them overcome isolation and stress.
Another way to combat child abuse is to build healthy relationships with children, even if you are not their parent. Research has shown that a child's social-emotional development is reliant upon a healthy relationship with an adult whom they trust. Studies have shown that those relationships can build resilience and help children overcome adversity.
This is important because adverse childhood experiences, commonly referred to as ACEs, increase a child's risk for serious physical, social and mental health problems, including substance abuse, suicide and early death.
While incidents of child abuse and neglect add to ACEs and increase these risks, safe, stable and nurturing relationships can build resiliency in children and enable them to overcome ACEs and grow to be healthy adults.
As the mother of three, including twins, I can vividly recall the stressful and sleepless nights when trying to soothe two crying infants.
Thankfully, I had supports in my life that allowed me to manage this stressful and challenging time.
My children were also very fortunate to have many healthy relationships with other adults throughout their lives. Unfortunately, some parents and children in Delaware do not have the same level of support to meet the demands of raising children, and that is where you can help.
There are many ways you can support parents and children to help end or limit child abuse before it starts. Examples include:
• Mentoring a new parent by reaching out and offering to help with child care or offering tips on dealing with the challenges of raising a child.
• Donating money or time to organizations that advocate for children and families, such as Prevent Child Abuse America or your local community center.
• Donating gently used clothing to local shelters for families who might need a little extra help.
• Volunteering to staff an after-school program like scouting, sports or academic teams.
• Calling the Delaware Helpline at 2-1-1 if you know someone who may be in need of assistance but unsure where to start.
These are just a few options that you could use to help someone who may need your assistance.
No matter how you choose to help, the key is to build healthy, supportive relationships with the adults and children in your life and in your community.
While we in the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families and our dedicated community partners work to prevent child abuse every day, we can't do it without you. Our children are our future and our responsibility.
Together we can help those children who may be at risk of abuse or neglect by helping the adults in their lives establish the healthy relationship every child needs and so richly deserves.
As Frederick Douglass said, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men."
If you suspect that a child in Delaware is being abused or neglected, call the Child Abuse Report Line at 1-800-292-9582.
The Honorable Josette DelleDonne Manning, Esq. is cabinet secretary of the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families.