The road to a healthy and productive future starts early in childhood. With 80% of brain growth happening in the first three years of life, it is crucial that every child has a safe and nurturing environment to grow up in. Children who grow up in a secure and supportive environment are more likely to become responsible, productive members of society.
Unfortunately, for some children, even in Louisiana, they are never even given a chance. Louisiana ranks 47th in the nation in overall child well-being. In 2013, 10,119 of Louisiana's 1.1 million children were victims of child maltreatment, with 76% of these children being first-time victims.
The best chance for a child's future is for there to be no abuse or neglect — through a dedicated focus on PREVENTION programs and support. Prevention refers to activities that stop a negative action or behavior, or those that promote a positive action or behavior. Prevention programs help improve a child's life by supporting a family's overall well-being, which ultimately leads to the promotion of a healthier and more productive nation.
There are several ways that we can promote a protective environment for children by emphasizing nurturing, parenting knowledge, resilience, social connections and comprehensive support. First, develop a nurturing atmosphere where parents relate, respond and communicate with children. Second, teach parents appropriate expectations for different ages and stages of development. Third, recognize the signs of stress and develop positive ways to cope with that stress. Fourth, identify a trusted network of family and friends to help in times of need. And finally, offer families access to financial, housing and other needed support systems.
Prevention is critical because children who experience trauma are at a greater risk of emotional, cognitive, physical and behavioral challenges throughout life. Children who are abused and neglected are commonly burdened with a wide range of health and social outcomes. Victims are five times more likely to be diagnosed with clinical depression, four times more likely to become smokers and seven times more likely to be alcoholics. Victims of multiple traumas also have a 4,600% increase in intravenous drug use. Higher rates of adolescent pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, autoimmune diseases, domestic partner violence, divorce, multiple marriages and multiple drug prescriptions are also common.
All of these problems stemming from childhood abuse and neglect ultimately have a negative effect on our overall society as well, including higher healthcare costs, increased incarceration rates, higher loss of work time by affected employees and poorer mental health.
There are numerous ways you can help prevent child abuse and neglect. First and foremost, make children a priority and be a nurturing parent. You can also help by aiding yourself, a family member, friend or neighbor in need. It is important for everyone to learn the signs and symptoms of child abuse. Pay attention to what children around you say and do, and be vocal by reporting suspected abuse or neglect. KIDLINE, a free telephone line offering parenting support, information or referrals to community resources, can be reached at 1‐800‐244‐5373. You can also support prevention policies, legislation and education or donate by calling (225) 925‐9520. Visit www.pcal.org for 30 ways you can prevent child abuse and neglect and to find out more ways you can help.