Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect
Child abuse and neglect are preventable, yet each year in the United States, close to one million children are confirmed victims of child maltreatment. Luckily, an extensive body of research provides insight into best practices for what works to improve child safety, improve well-being outcomes, and reduce the occurrence of child abuse and neglect. These efforts are essential because of child abuse and neglect's pervasive and long-lasting effects on children, their families, and society. Adverse consequences for children's development often are evident immediately, be they physical, emotional, social or cognitive. For many children, these effects extend far beyond childhood into adolescence and adulthood, potentially compromising the lifetime productivity of maltreatment victims (Daro, 1988).
Child abuse and neglect prevention is a critical issue in the near term and it is the most critical issue we can address for the long-term prosperity of our community, our state, and our country. Healthy child develpment is a foundation for community development, as capable children become the foundation for a prosperous and sustainable society.
We know from extensive research in child development that the basic architecture of the brain is built up through an ongoing process that begins before birth and continues into adultood. During childhood, the brain develops by using already learned skills to acquire new skills. The interaction of genes and experiences shapes the developing brain, and strong healthy relationships are critical to strong healthy children. Cognitive, emotional and social capacities are inexricably intertwined, and learning, behavior and physical and mental health are inter-related over the life course. However, toxic stress, like stress caused by abuse or neglect, damages the developing brain. This damage leads to problems in learning, behavior and increased susceptibility to physical and mental illness over time. Finally, we know that brain plasticity, or the brain's ability to change learned behavior, decreases over time - therefore getting it right early in life is less costly to society and individuals compared to trying to fix it later.
It's simple: when we don't put the healthy growth and development of our children at the top of our list of priorities, we jeopardize our entire future.
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Daro, D. (1988). Confronting child abuse: Research for effective program design. New York: Free Press