April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, which is a good reminder that although it is often easy to get wrapped up in attention-grabbing headlines on cases of child abuse and neglect, these stories often leave behind other aspects of a child’s life that are equally important to consider. The numbers paint a clear picture: over 678,000 American children were reported as victims of maltreatment in 2012. While this number has seen a steady decline in recent years for Nebraska’s kids, there is clearly much more that can be done for the 4,306 children that experienced maltreatment in our state last year.
In order to meaningfully address the issue of child abuse and neglect, it is important to understand that statistics are just one small piece of a much larger story in child well being. Cases of child maltreatment are one of many outcomes of a much larger system of factors that influence the quality of a child’s life. Risk factors that are present in a child’s family and community such as poverty, substance abuse, and other stressors significantly increase the likelihood that a child will experience hardships from birth through adulthood. These factors interact with each other during a child’s development, and have measurable consequences in poor health, academic achievement, and psychological development, among many others.
Although much of the research and data begins to paint a very bleak picture, we also know that there are a variety of evidence-based approaches that can mitigate these outcomes. Research has shown us that improving family and community conditions are extremely effective as preventative measures that support the environments that children are a part of. Programs such as home visitation, workforce development, or nutrition assistance strengthen families, while broader efforts in economic development or healthcare access can change the neighborhoods that children grow up in.
There are many opportunities to improve child welfare in Nebraska that extend far beyond safety measures and back-end policies. Preventative measures that frame a child’s well being within a family- and community-centered context is a much more efficient way of preventing child abuse before it even has the chance to occur.