My Take: Child abuse, neglect spike should be a wakeup call

Updated: Feb 5, 2020

This week, as they do every April, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released the Kids Count in Michigan Data Book showing trends in child well-being. The trend that leaped off the page as the single most important thing in this report is this: “the rate of child abuse and neglect has continued to rise — by 30 percent from 2012 to 2017.” In other words, the most pressing concern is an adult issue with devastating outcomes for children — the most vulnerable citizens among us.

Kids count. Early childhood matters.

Kids’ lives threatened today will encounter greater health risk tomorrow. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), a measure of abuse and neglect, impact adult health. Research of the past two decades show there is a direct relationship between the number of ACEs one experiences and negative health outcomes later in life.

These health effects result from the body being imprinted by a chronic, hyperactive stress response. The studies of Anda and Felitti reveal that this unhealthy response increases a person’s risk of heart disease, stroke, anxiety, obesity, substance abuse and depression, even suicide. Childhood abuse and neglect impacts our kids’ lives today and makes a healthy adult life tomorrow nearly impossible.

Give and take of everyday life

Every day adults take precaution and safety measures for kids. If you’re a parent you know the script well: taking hold of small hands when crossing the street; buckling into car seats; healthy eating; brushing teeth; and bedtime are routines meant to protect and prevent damage. Yet, abuse and neglect are on the rise.

In fact, the top five ranked Michigan counties show increases in victim confirmation of abuse/neglect from 14-57 percent. In my home county, Ottawa (ranked No. 3), child victim confirmation is up by 50.7 percent! The positive effect of decreased poverty (down by at least 20 percent across Michigan) may actually be negated by decreasing the personal safety and health of our children today and our community tomorrow.

Environment of awareness

Data trends are useful in directing attention to areas of greatest need. Data can guide the work, but only intention and action, with laser-like focus will change outcomes. As Brene′ Brown says, “Maybe data is just stories with soul.”

As a parent (biologic and former foster), a physician and a community member that cares a lot about individual children and all kids’ well-being, my action was to call Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) of Ottawa County to discuss this data.