Jill Lepore's February 1 article in the New Yorker, "Baby Doe," did an excellent job outlining the peril of focusing on “after-the-fact intervention” versus child abuse prevention programs – something we have been arguing for a long time now.
Unfortunately, what the article missed is that there are evidence-based family support programs, many of which are supported by the Children’s Trust, aimed at preventing child abuse and neglect currently serving families across Massachusetts.
The bottom line is that these programs need additional resources, support, and attention to reach more families before the trauma of child abuse occurs.
That is why we were glad to see Prevent Child Abuse America's thoughtful response, which we include below. We are grateful for them calling out Healthy Families Massachusetts as "one of the most successful family support and primary prevention programs in the country."
Home Visiting, Family Support and Bella Bond
CHICAGO, IL – "The noble dream here is that, if only child-protective agencies collected better data and used better algorithms, children would no longer be beaten or killed."
When Jill Lepore writes this in The New Yorker ('Baby Doe," February 1st), she is asking whether our society knows how to ensure the healthy development of all children. She is also writing about the sad case of Bella Bond – a child killed by her mother’s boyfriend and dumped in Boston Harbor by the couple – and asking whether it is possible for our society to prevent child abuse and neglect at all.
The answer is yes, to both questions.
Lepore goes on to discuss the Yale program Minding the Baby and its positive impact on the lives of children. What she neglects to discuss, however, is Healthy Families Massachusetts, a home-based family support program for first-time parents under the age of 20, which is one of the most successful family support and primary prevention programs in the country. In fact, a randomized control trial evaluation of Healthy Families Massachusetts proves the program reduces the use of corporal punishment and increases factors for family self-sufficiency. Evaluations of the Healthy Families programs in other states, such as New York, have shown positive impacts on reducing child maltreatment.
The collected data and research shows just what we, and Lepore, expect from a program such as this. With our expectations met, why not try to accomplish the “noble dream” too? We believe, and research backs our belief, that we will be able to prevent deaths such as Bella Bond’s when states like Massachusetts are ready to take family-support programs to full-scale.
“It is my hope that this story begins a conversation that accepts lessons that are learned and places them into action with evidenced based solutions,” says James M. Hmurovich, President & CEO, Prevent Child Abuse America. “As a nation, the public and policymakers alike must recognize that we all have a role to play in the lives of all children, and that makes Bella Bond our child too.”