By Sharon Hirsch, President & CEO, Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina
In North Carolina and across our country, we care deeply about our children and want them to grow up healthy and ready for success. Yet, despite numerous research studies that clearly demonstrate the link between children’s early experiences and future health and life success, we aren’t doing enough in North Carolina to make sure all children grow up in safe, stable, nurturing environments. It’s essential to the child and to the community that we do more now.
We can no longer allow adults, particularly policymakers, to be unwilling to ask hard questions about policies, systems, and funding designed to support families. We know it’s essential that all children have safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments throughout childhood because children’s experiences literally build the developing architecture of their maturing brains. Positive, nurturing experiences form a solid foundation for future healthy growth and development; while the toxic stress of adverse experiences, such as abuse and neglect, physically damages developing brain architecture resulting in long-term negative consequences for us all.
Children who experience child abuse and neglect are 59% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28% more likely to be arrested as an adult, and 30% more likely to commit violent crimes. And, thanks to the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, we know that as adults, those who experienced child abuse are at greatest risk for developing chronic and fatal diseases such as lung cancer, heart disease, COPD, migraines, depression, and more. Where is the urgency to address this crisis that costs North Carolina $2 billion annually in public assistance, child welfare, mental health, health care, education, and lost productivity?
North Carolina is a state built on strong family values. We recognize that families are the foundation for successful communities and a key influence on a child’s ability to grow up to become a productive, contributing citizen. We’ve also identified conditions that, when present in families and communities, have been proven to prevent abuse and neglect and increase the health and well-being of children and families. These Protective Factors connect families to resources and support in the community that build resilience and allow them to parent effectively, even under stress.
All North Carolinians play a role in building a culture that supports families and creates safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for every child. How? Support the following investments in great childhoods:
- Make evidence-based parenting education programs available across North Carolina in a continuum from prenatal to college and make these programs mandatory for foster parents and parents who are at risk or substantiated for abuse and neglect.
- Increase public awareness of ways to support families and children to prevent child maltreatment emphasizing the Protective Factors.
- Recommend that counties develop local child abuse prevention plans using the Protective Factors Framework.
- Encourage appointing authorities to appoint parents to boards to actively participate in decision making on policy related to child development and child abuse prevention, such as the Child Fatality Task Force, local Smart Start Board, public health board, and social services board.
- Recommend pediatricians screen children for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the Protective Factors.
- Support the development of a state plan to prevent child sexual abuse.
Preventing child abuse and neglect is something that we can all agree is important – no matter our political affiliation or whether we live in a rural community or a large city. It’s morally sound, fiscally smart, and good for our future health and prosperity. Let’s put our North Carolina values into practice and create a sense of urgency to protect all of our children. Let’s take steps to become a thriving, healthy, productive, and prosperous North Carolina. The cost is too high not to act. Our failure to prevent and treat childhood trauma means years of emotional, physical, and economic costs for individuals, families, and the state of North Carolina.
During the Short Session and fall elections let’s urge our legislative leaders and candidates to make it a priority to invest in children’s healthy development and growth. It’s essential.