A new report from the Children’s Bureau found that Massachusetts had the highest rate of reported child abuse and neglect in the nation in fiscal year 2014. There were 22.9 child victims of abuse and neglect for every 1,000 children in the Commonwealth. While national figures are not available for fiscal year 2015, the state reported 22.4 victims for every 1,000 children.
This rise in reported cases of abuse and neglect in the last two years is due in part to heightened attention and vigilance stemming from a small handful of tragic cases in the media spotlight.
While nearly all of the focus has been on how to beef up and refocus the Department of Children and Families on “keeping kids safe,” relatively little attention has been paid to the evidence-based family support programs aimed at preventing child abuse and neglect from occurring in the first place.
In the words of Frederick Douglass, “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” When we focus on after-the-fact intervention programs, we miss an opportunity to act in a profoundly more proactive way.
By working with parents early, before they become overwhelmed and reach a breaking point, we invest not only in their well-being but in that of their child as well. By focusing on prevention, we not only avoid bad outcomes like child maltreatment, but we also increase good outcomes for kids and families.
A rigorous evaluation by Tufts University of our Healthy Families program proved just that. The program decreases young parents’ use of corporal punishment and lowers risky behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use. It dramatically increases Mom’s educational achievement, and it keeps young dads connected to their babies.
The Children’s Trust leads statewide efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect by supporting parents and strengthening families. We partner with parents to help them get connected to resources, learn critical parenting skills, and build a network of people whom they can count on.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and it is crucial that we shift our perspective on keeping kids safe, and usher in a new paradigm of strengthening families through family support. It is past time that we marshal the additional resources, support, and attention toward proven child abuse prevention programs in order to reach more families before the trauma of child abuse occurs. Anything less is an act of political neglect.
Join us at the State House on April 7 at our annual Step Up For Kids event to recognize that working with families early to ensure they are strong and healthy is the surest way to keep kids safe.