Letter from our State Coordinator
Preventing Child Abuse – Everyone Has a Role to Play
Jim McKay, State Coordinator Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia
April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month, and it’s my pleasure to share some ways we can work together to help children and ensure a prosperous future for West Virginia. Just as there have been breakthrough developments in technology, and medical research has changed how we cure diseases, there’s also exciting research about making significant improvements in the lives of our children.
Research findings confirm that children are shaped by the people, experiences and environment in which they live. Experts describe this interaction as “serve and return”, like in a tennis match. A baby coos, and the parent smiles and speaks back to him. A toddler reaches out her hand, and a caring adult takes firm hold of it. A child says his first word, and gets a big hug from grandma.
Healthy child development hinges on many of these supportive interactions every day. The same concept of “serve and return” is true for families living in our communities. The people, experiences, and environment surrounding a family have a profound impact.
Helping children is something we must all do together. Everyone has a role to play. Yet, when our communities are disconnected and don’t support children’s development, then our opportunities for success are disrupted.
Research about brain development confirms that a child’s future is hindered if they endure toxic stress in their lives. Neglectful relationships, unsafe living conditions and exposure to violence have life-long consequences. This kind of toxic stress affects a child’s brain architecture and inhibits their health, education and ability to form healthy relationships. Studies show that our brains are essentially built from the bottom-up, so a child’s earliest experiences have a profound impact throughout their life, which in turn impacts our state’s future.
Unfortunately, we can’t bubble wrap our children like we do other precious and fragile things. But there are effective ways we can safeguard them.
In conjunction with our community partners across the state, Prevent Child Abuse WV is working to implement effective, research-based approaches that bring our communities together to support children and their families from the moment expectant parents learn they’re having a baby until the child has grown to adulthood.
Working together, family, friends, professionals and policy makers help build specific Protective Factors that help ensure children grow up to become all that they can be. Based on research from the Center for Study of Social Policy (cssp.org), these Protective Factors that prevent child abuse and neglect are:
- Knowledge of Parenting & Child Development,
- Parental Resilience,
- Social Connections,
- Social & Emotional Competence of Children, and
- Concrete Support in Times of Need.
Each Protective Factor is based on a great deal of research, but reflects wisdom passed down through the ages. When we take action to build these Protective Factors, we will help prevent incidents of child abuse in our community and state.
Building Protective Factors and preventing child abuse can be as simple as a kind neighbor who offers to babysit while Mom goes to the store. It’s a father rocking and talking to his infant son. It’s a local program providing resources and education to new parents. It’s a community pulling together to build a new playground. It’s writing to representatives to express support for family friendly policies.
We all help to build these Protective Factors by our individual and collective actions. By creating communities that care for children, we will dramatically enhance the lives of children and their families and greatly improve our common future.
Thank you for doing your part, during Child Abuse Prevention Month and throughout the year, to help all children in West Virginia have the bright future that they deserve. For more information how you can help, please visit our website at http://www.preventchildabusewv.org.