“We have many children, but none to spare.” This statement graces a sign that stands at the entry to a small town in a neighboring county. Its message is loud and clear: every child matters. This point has been even closer to my heart lately, as we prepare for April, Child Abuse Prevention Month, and I reflect on the little ones reported in the media across the U.S. that we have lost to abuse since I became Director of the Child Advocacy Center.
Fatalities are devastating, but non-fatal traumatic childhood experiences can also be devastating, having a lifelong impact on health and wellbeing. Children who experience traumas like emotional, physical, and sexual abuse and neglect are at much higher risk for serious mental and physical illnesses--even the ten most common causes of death, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. In fact, research shows that adults who had six or more types of adverse childhood experiences die on average 20 years earlier than those without such experiences.
How can we prevent this? Safe, stable, nurturing relationships are the key to helping children reach their full potential, and that is something each of us can impact. We can invest in programs that support evidence based approaches to prevention, such as those that involve home visiting support for parents of young children. We can support community initiatives that reduce stressors impacting families, such as affordable housing and accessible substance abuse treatment. And we can reach out. Become a mentor—whether to struggling parents you know, or to a child through local mentoring programs. Resiliency research shows that having a positive relationship with even one supportive adult can result in strong, positive outcomes for a child.
And if you think a child is being abused, report it. Don’t wait; don’t feel you have to be sure. Make the call and express your concerns. You can call Child Protective Services at 301-600-2464 twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. If you want to talk about child abuse in our county, feel free to call me. The Child Advocacy Center partners with law enforcement agencies, the Department of Social Services, the State’s Attorney’s Office, other agencies, and citizens, to help keep children safe. My number is 301-600-1762.
We need to keep talking about how to keep children safe, examine our investments in prevention, and review and revise our processes and laws. We must do whatever is needed, and do it together, to ensure that we stop child abuse now. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Please take a moment to notice the blue pinwheels along the walkway at City Hall, and the blue ribbons around the trees on Market Street—reminders of the importance of childhood and the worth of those we must protect.
Lynn Davis, Director