Updated: Feb 5
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.
Darcy Fluharty, the executive director, was blunt in her response, “Look, we owe it to children to protect them and as adults we can do better.” Fluharty shared that just as we pay attention every day to the safety of our children riding in cars and crossing the street, we must learn to pay attention to scenarios that are unsafe for our children regarding abuse and neglect.
CACs exist in many communities and they are experts in teaching abuse awareness. Additionally they provide prevention and intervention strategies for parents, neighbors, teachers and anyone who cares about children. The alarm of abuse and neglect is sounding. A call to action is to become informed in prevention. Contact the Ottawa CAC at 616-393-6123, cac-ottawa.org and they can guide your action.
Investing in the earliest years of a child’s life is vital. Healthy relationships that develop through quality early childhood experiences like preschool, can buffer childhood trauma. By connecting children to foundational relationships and early learning experiences, locally, Ready for School is laser-focused on expanding access to healthy experiences. This is part of a comprehensive call to action because kids count. Where our children are concerned, we must use this data to inform. We must then listen closer to hear and create stories with soul.
We have to create the environment our children need to thrive. As adults we must prioritize safety for all children. Change will happen when adults step forward to serve as guides in stories with soul. How? By ensuring that our children have more opportunities to safely bloom where they’re planted. By increasing access to early learning opportunities and healthy experiences, resiliency is built as a way of tackling what life brings them.
We have to reverse this downward trend in child safety. If we don’t get this right, we will continue to fail our children today, and as adults, they will be robbed of a healthy tomorrow.