HCN News & Notes

April Is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

SPRINGFIELD — Many millions of children of every race, religion, and background face neglect or physical, emotional, or sexual abuse in America.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, an annual observance dedicated to raising awareness and prevention of child abuse. During this month and throughout the year, Baystate Children’s Hospital encourages all individuals and organizations to play a role in making the community a better and safer place for children and families.

“Doctors are often asked if cancer or heart disease can be prevented. The answer is, of course, yes. It is important to recognize that child abuse and neglect are public health problems, too, and can be prevented,” said Dr. Stephen Boos, MD, co-medical director of the Family Advocacy Center of Baystate Children’s Hospital. “There have been a good number of models for child-abuse prevention. I think one message runs through all successful programs: preventing child abuse requires us to build and support strong families and communities in which children can become the best versions of themselves.”

Boos noted three levels identified by research into child-abuse prevention. Where the research is most active recently is on broad governmental support, such as the refundable earned-income tax credit, Medicaid expansion, housing assistance, affordable childcare, and other food and financial assistance. Many programs are being studied, and each has an impact on child-abuse rates.

In addition to formal governmental support, informal social supports matter. Researchers look at something called ‘social capital,’ the way people feel about and relate to their neighbors. When that is high, child-abuse rates are lower.

Also relevant is the culture of the family itself. Comparing adults who report past sexual abuse to those who do not, the strongest predictor is parent action. When parents monitor their children — know where they are after school, know who they are communicating with on social media, know that their activities are being supervised by a trusted adult — and talk regularly to their children about relationships and sexual safety, sexual abuse is less common. Physical abuse is less common when parents use ‘positive parenting,’ focusing on structuring and rewarding success and avoiding corporal punishment.

As a bonus, building those close relationships, remaining involved but not controlling, and accentuating the positive builds resilient children. Resiliency is a challenging concept to study, but means that something present in the person before makes them do better after something unfortunate happens.

“A strong parent-child relationship in a strong family with strong connections to a supportive community in a society with strong social supports results in strong children who bounce back when adversity strikes,” Boos said.

The Family Advocacy Center of Baystate Children’s Hospital is a nationally accredited child-advocacy center serving children, families, and communities of Western Mass. affected by child abuse and/or domestic violence. As child abuse and domestic violence are community problems, the Family Advocacy Center coordinates child-abuse and domestic-violence services with numerous community partners. Staffed by physicians, psychologists, social workers, volunteers, and advocates, the center offers a variety of supports, including counseling, medical services, support programs, advocacy programs and victim services.

If you suspect that a child is being abused, call the Child Help National Child Abuse Hotline at (800) 422-4453.