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Wrapping ribbon spool isolated on white backgroundApril is Child Abuse Prevention Month. How will you commemorate it?  Some communities hold fundraisers. Others distribute blue ribbons honoring the thousands of children who are victims of abuse and neglect. Child welfare organizations sponsor workshops and webinars to raise awareness. This year there will even be a Walk on Washington on April 13, 2013.

All great ideas to rally support. But not enough to stem the epidemic of violence that threatens the health and well-being of so many children. This requires a long, hard look at the factors contributing to it. These include:

Family History

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE) provides a stunning description of the prevalence of family dysfunction and child maltreatment in the lives of its participants (n= 17, 421). When asked about their exposure to rather common types of family dysfunction:  alcoholism, mental illness, and neglect as well as their memories of abuse, two-thirds reported experiences in one or more categories. Forty-two percent were exposed to two or more categories. One in nine were exposed to five or more.

Results of the ACE study give new meaning to the idea that most people “live lives of quiet desperation”.  Minimizing the effects of adverse childhood experiences on future generations requires a trauma-sensitive approach to prenatal care and family medicine.  This should include easy access to early intervention services such as home visits and community support. (www.cdc.gov/ace/findings.htm)

Social Isolation

Raising children can be a lonely business. Especially when parents are not sure of what they are doing, are tired, or are struggling to meet the competing demands of work and family.

While child abuse can happen in any family, the risk goes up when parents live away from extended family or lack other resources to relieve the stress of child rearing. Social isolation limits the opportunities parents have to consult with one another. Left alone, there is less pressure to conform to expectations of positive parenting behaviors. And there is a greater risk of becoming depressed or overwhelmed.

Hillary Clinton is right when she says “it takes a village”. Preventing child abuse means reaching out to young families and creating a community around them. Affordable community childcare programs, parent information centers, leisure activities that parents and children can enjoy together help young families stay connected and involved.

Insecure Attachment

Nicholas Kristof is known throughout the world for his impassioned articles about children’s rights. An article he wrote last October speaks to the importance of secure attachment relationships in early childhood.(www.www.nytimes.com/2012/opinion/sunday)

The title says it all- Cuddle Your Kid. Mr. Kristof goes on to say that hugging babies, as well as kissing them and reading to them are behaviors akin to the licking and grooming observed in animal populations. They create bonds between parents and children that are protective of both.

Preventing child abuse requires strong attachment relationships. Infants and toddlers can’t make it on their own. They need the support and affection of parents and loved ones. Secure attachment takes time and attention. It grows through contact and concern.  Cuddling counts.