By Nancy Correa
April is child abuse prevention month.
Too often when we think of child abuse we think of the tragedies that are sensationalized by the media. The guilty parents are villainized and, though shocked by the reports, we often afterward go about our busy lives without much further reflection, because only those kinds of parents abuse their children. Parents who are monsters. Parents who don’t love their children. Parents who are nothing like me or the parents I know. Right? Wrong.
The truth is, the vast majority of parents that abuse their children love their children deeply, just like you and I. Abuse occurs at all income levels, races, and gender. Many abusers are or were victims themselves and may have never have had a role model to show them what loving parenting looks like. Most of these parents are not the villains featured on the local news station. Most of these parents want the absolute best for their children.
Child abuse is the mistreatment of a child that results in harm or injury. In 2013 Harris County had 5,929 confirmed cases of abuse and neglect, with our youngest children, children under the age of 2, at greatest risk. The majority of confirmed cases resulted from neglect, another 25% from physical abuse, 13% from sexual abuse, and 2% from emotional abuse.
But research has demonstrated that, as a community, there are things that we can do to prevent child abuse. Parenting classes lower rates of social, emotional, and behavioral problems in children. Plus, they have the added benefit of increasing confidence and lowering stress in parents. They also lower rates of abuse across a community.
If asked, would you like to lower your stress, improve your relationship with your spouse, and improve your child’s behavior, how would you respond? Yes, yes, and yes. Research has shown that attending parenting classes has a positive impact on all of these factors.
Fortunately, many organizations across our great city are coming together to better support parents in our community. School districts, churches, hospitals, nonprofits, afterschool programs, and museums are training their staffs to deliver parenting classes to support parents like you and me. I have had the fortune of attending several of these parenting classes, and I am much more equipped to handle (and even prevent!!) my spirited toddler’s demands, spunk, and all-out meltdowns as a result.
For example, the Positive Parenting Program (Triple P), is a parent education program that is designed for all parents by offering different types of support, including seminars, individual consultations, and group classes. When Triple P was offered across nine counties in South Carolina, child abuse rates, hospitalizations from child abuse, and placements in foster care decreased compared with non-participating counties. CHILDREN AT RISK, a local nonprofit, is currently piloting the Triple P program and has trained 86 individuals from 19 organizations across our community to deliver the program, including the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Children’s Museum, Collaborative for Children, DePelchin Children’s Center, Galena Park ISD, Sheldon ISD, and Spring Branch ISD.
Texas Children’s Hospital also is implementing a parent education program, the Period of PURPLE Crying, to all parents that deliver babies at the Women’s Pavilion. And Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital is delivering the program to families in its Neonatal Special Care Unit. The Period of PURPLE Crying educates parents on infant behavior.
Another effective program being implemented in Houston is the Nurse-Family Partnership. This program is a home visitation program that focuses on low-income, first-time mothers. It strives to improve the prenatal health and self-sufficiency of mothers, and address child health and development. A study of the program in New York revealed that when children in the program turned 15, their mothers were 48% less likely to engage in child abuse.
Child abuse is a complex issue, and this year, instead of pointing fingers or turning our heads the other way, let’s come together as a community and support our fellow parents. Let’s face it, parenting is hard. Some of us are lucky and had great role models growing up, have good paying jobs, and a supportive and involved partner. Some of us are not so lucky, but we are all doing the best we can.
Let’s be part of the solution. Let’s educate ourselves. Parenting classes aren’t just for “at risk” parents, they are for all parents. Tell others about the resources that are available in our community, and lend a hand to another parent in need. And finally, we all need to remember that in the state of Texas, we have both a moral and legal obligation to report suspected cases of abuse. By law, we are all required to report suspected cases of child abuse to child protective services at 1-800-252-5400.
Nancy Correa is Director, Center for Parenting and Family Well-Being at CHILDREN AT RISK, a well-known leader in understanding the health, safety and economic indicators impacting children, and educating public policy makers in their importance in improving the lives of children.