Investing in youth and families is one of the most impactful ways we can improve and strengthen community health. The barriers that so many families and children face have resulted in child abuse becoming a growing issue that has serious consequences on children, their families, and the communities in which they live.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month but in reality, child abuse happens every day, of every month, of every year. Statistics from Childhelp, a leading child abuse prevention organization, show:
Child abuse is common. A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds in the United States.
Long-term impacts of child abuse are staggering. Ischemic heart disease (IHD), Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), liver disease, and other health-related quality of life issues are tied to child abuse.
Child abuse is deadly. In 2019, state agencies identified an estimated 1,840 children who died as a result of abuse and neglect—an average of five children a day.
At Unite Us, we believe that focusing on child abuse prevention and early intervention is the key to driving real change.
“In family support and child abuse prevention work, the idea of protective factors is one that draws attention to the responsibility and opportunity we all have in promoting health and well-being,” said Moira Kenney, Regional Network Director, West Coast at Unite Us. “The protective factors framework identifies five elements for a healthy, nurturing family and community environment: parental resilience, social connections, concrete support in times of need, knowledge of parenting and child development, and social and emotional competence of children.”
Our Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) research tells us community protective factors play a critical role in helping children function better at home, in school, and in the community. They also serve as safeguards, supporting parents who otherwise might be at risk, by helping them find the support and resources they need so they can parent effectively, even under the most stressful conditions. Communities with protective factors have access to:
Safe, stable housing
Nurturing and safe childcare
Safe and engaging after school programs and activities
Medical care and mental health services
Economic and financial resources and assistance
National research experts and health-centered organizations agree that building communities with protective factors lead to fewer cases of child abuse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Protective factors may lessen the likelihood of children being abused or neglected. Identifying and understanding protective factors are equally as important as researching risk factors.”
Building strategic partnerships and actionable plans
Unite Us is proud to partner with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), a key champion for children and provider of resources for addressing child abuse and neglect. CASA is a national nonprofit program that recruits, trains, supervises, and supports community volunteers who advocate for abused and neglected children.
CASA lists the following as risk factors for child abuse and neglect:
Parental stress. Risk factors may include mental health issues, adverse response to stress, and trauma history.
Substance abuse. Studies have shown that between one and two-thirds of child abuse cases involve substance use.
Teen parents. Higher rates of child abuse occur when parents are in their teenage years. Domestic violence. In 30% to 60% of families where spousal abuse is involved, mistreatment of the child also occurs.
Poverty. Poverty can add to the probability of abuse and neglect.
When organizations like CASA have an efficient way to connect children and families to the wraparound services they need, we are better set up as a community to truly address the risk factors for child abuse and neglect.
“It’s fantastic to see that we can make the jobs of community volunteers just a little bit easier, reducing the time they spend tracking down services and support for the children they are helping,” said Kenney.
What support services do children and their families need most?
Data from Unite Us Coordinated Networks reveals children and their families need urgent assistance with the basics–food, housing, and individual/family support to grow and thrive. Figure 1 shows a breakdown of the top three co-occurring needs and requested services in communities served by a Unite Us network. Our network helps communities identify those in need and get them the right resources and support at the right time.
Providing parents, caregivers, and children with the economic support they need is critical to child abuse prevention, and the CDC agrees: “Strengthening household financial security can reduce child abuse and neglect by improving parents’ ability to satisfy children’s basic needs (e.g., food, shelter, medical care), provide developmentally appropriate child care, and reduce parental stress and depression, both risk factors for child abuse and neglect.”
Let’s work together to support thriving families
The saying “It takes a village to raise a child” is true, but it also takes a village to protect a child from abuse. Organizations like CASA are coming together to build systems of care that remove barriers between caregivers and organizations. Unite Us is committed to our role in this work by building the largest, most intuitive health and social care network possible. Our powerful platform makes care coordination easier and resources more visible, helping communities address stress factors which contribute to child abuse and neglect. The outcomes we are working toward set the stage for early prevention and intervention, ultimately making our communities safer and healthier for children. We can’t do this work alone, though. We need partners like you so we can help more families in our communities achieve resilience and access support. We all play an important role in preventing child abuse.
Does your organization work with parents, families, and/or children?
If so, we hope you'll join the thousands of organizations that are already working together.