A Month for Awareness
- Created on Monday, 02 April 2012 17:50
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, an opportunity to shine a light on an issue that not only leaves scars on the lives of its victims, but also on our society as a whole. It has been found that when children are abused and neglected, especially in the early years of their lives, their brain development is inhibited by what is now known as toxic stress syndrome. The effect of toxic stress puts kids at a developmental disadvantage that can cause a myriad of problems down the road.
As a community, it is our collective responsibility to prevent abuse, neglect and ensuing toxic stress. Abuse and neglect don't necessarily happen in isolation; environmental factors such as chronic poverty and community violence infuse a home with excess stressors that can lead to abuse and neglect. Prevent Child Abuse Minnesota, one of our state's leading advocacy groups on this issue, describes the development of a child's brain with a simple analogy: the tennis serve and return. Similar to a tennis rally, children reach out to adults in their lives for interaction (the serve), and how we respond (the return), whether it be positive or negative, impacts the developmental foundation of children's brains.
We know that prevention efforts work and are much more cost-effective than providing services to abuse and neglect victims. Prevention strategies can start with reaching out to parents in our neighborhoods, congregations, schools, and communities. While parent education and social support is important, if we truly hope to address the issue we must address the environmental factors that add stress to the lives of families. This means ensuring that parents have jobs that pay a livable wage, have access to quality, affordable child care, have safe, stable housing, and can access nutritious food.
Is it a pipe-dream to believe that our state can implement these strategies in rapid fashion? Maybe. But there are steps we can take to hold ourselves and our elected officials accountable to authentic progress. This legislative session we worked to draft the Family Economic Security Act, enacting key provisions of the Commission to End Poverty's report (fully funding child care assistance, raising the minimum wage, and increasing child tax credits for low-income families). As the session wraps up, we can remind our legislators that this legislation would be a first step in changing toxic environments for many of our children.
We are heading into campaign season; with the President and a U.S. Senator up for election, as well as all 201 Minnesota state legislators, there is enormous opportunity to make an impact. While our public leaders are campaigning this summer and fall, we can weigh candidates' positions on issues affecting children and challenge candidates to be strong advocates for the prevention of abuse and neglect.
This April, National Child Abuse Prevention Month, let's stretch the old adage and commit ourselves to the idea that it takes a village to raise a child. In our Minnesota village we can do a whole lot more to raise awareness, enact prevention strategies, and insist on more family-friendly public policies.
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