Here’s the thing about child safety – it’s mostly about adults.
When I first began working on child welfare policy, that sentence struck me as a bit odd. I was working for a child advocacy organization – why should I care about adults? It all boils down to a very common sense answer – you can’t keep children safe without adults. From the time a child is born all the way through adolescence, parents and caregivers have a profound impact on how and whether children grow up happy, healthy, and safe (see more in our video on child development). It’s their actions that keep children safe, it’s often their actions or failure to act that can cause children harm.
This week, we’ll be exploring the different forms of child maltreatment, abuse and neglect, and the different challenges to understanding each type of maltreatment.
One thing we do know is that child maltreatment is a growing problem here in Nebraska. The number of maltreated children in Nebraska has been on the rise since 2000. In the past ten years, we have been failing more children. As you can see in the child abuse and neglect graph to the left (click the graph for full size), we have almost as many maltreated children as we did in 1991.
Why this rise in maltreated children? My guess is that it all goes back to the adults. We have been failing our children in large part because we have been failing their parents. In Nebraska in 2009 over 80% of cases of child maltreatment were results of neglect. How is that different than abuse?
Neglect is a failure on the part of parents to provide for the children’s essential needs – whether that be food, shelter, education, health care, or emotional support. Ultimately addressing neglect is about adults. It’s about helping parents find the supports they need to parent well, to be financially stable, and to provide for their children’s needs. Parenting isn’t an easy job. If we want to keep children safe we can’t forget their families. Child welfare really is about adults.