Support Families to Prevent Child Abuse

Spring has finally arrived in Missoula! Birds are chirping and flowers are blossoming. Although it’s a difficult subject to talk about, April also happens to be National Child Abuse Prevention Month. It’s important to take the time to discuss how we can best support families so we ensure that all children can blossom and thrive.

Child abuse is unfortunately common. An estimated one in four children have experienced abuse or neglect at some point in their lives, and one in seven in the last year. In 2017, an estimated 1,720 children died from abuse and neglect, with about 674,000 children identified as victims of child abuse or neglect by child protective service agencies (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)). And children who experience abuse, neglect or other adverse childhood experiences are at increased risk for lifelong health problems and certain chronic diseases as adults, as well as other forms of violence and abuse in adolescence and adulthood.

When thinking about child abuse, most people think of physical abuse or sexual abuse. But there are two other kinds of abuse, emotional abuse and neglect.

Emotional abuse includes behaviors that harm a child’s emotional well-being, such as name calling, shaming, or withholding love.

Neglect is the failure to meet a child’s basic physical and emotional needs. These needs include housing, food, clothing, education, and access to medical care. These last two kinds of abuse are often more difficult to recognize in affected children.

No one sets out to abuse his or her child. Parenting is stressful, and parenting without support from family or friends is even more so. Children with special needs, young colicky infants or toddlers who are toilet training are at high risk for abuse, according to studies.

But studies have also identified protective factors against child abuse, such as supportive family environments and support from key sectors of society, including public health, government, education, social services, and the justice system. Strategies that assist the development of safe, stable and nurturing relationships between caregivers and their children decrease the risk of child abuse.

We are fortunate to have many agencies in Missoula that are invested in these specific strategies, such as strengthening economic support to families, changing social norms to support parents and positive parenting, providing quality care and education early in life, enhancing parenting skills to promote healthy child development, and intervening to lessen harms and prevent future risk (CDC: Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect: A Technical Package for Policy, Norm, and Programmatic Activities).

Let us work together towards the vision of eliminating child abuse and neglect, for it is indeed a preventable problem. This April, reach out to your friends who are parents and offer to give them a break, if you’re able, volunteer your time or donate money to local organization that supports children and families.


For families:

For professionals: