I have had a pretty cool nursing career. I have done things that few other people can say they have done. I have run research trials on devices, I have spoken at major conferences, not just for nursing, but for other healthcare specialties as well. There are very few US hospitals that have a cath lab that I haven’t stepped foot in at one point or another. In that career I have seen the best and the worst of things that humans can do to and for each other. In all that, the thing that I still and always will have the hardest time with is child abuse. Child abuse for me is very, very high, on that “worst of things” list.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. I talked about Child Abuse Prevention last year at this time, I talked about it the year before that, and I will talk about it again next year. Likely, I will talk about it a few more times here and then as well. I talk about child abuse prevention so much because Child Abuse Prevention is important. When it comes to Child Abuse Prevention, knowledge truly is power. Its power because while some child abuse is sadists doing awful things to kids, a big portion of child abuse is because of poor parenting skills, poor anger management, poor coping mechanisms and/or a lack of knowledge about the harm that some things can do to a child (for example, shaken baby syndrome). Substance abuse can also be a major contributor to child abuse. When we intervene and help parents and families with their parenting skills, anger management, and other coping mechanisms, when parents and families understand how their actions can affect children differently than adults, and we all have the knowledge on recognizing and how to report suspected child abuse, we save lives.
Child Abuse Prevention centers around developing conditions or attributes in individuals, families, communities and society as a whole that reduce the likelihood a child will be abused. These conditions and attributes are known as protective factors. The protective factors that have shown to have the most effect in preventing child abuse are: nurturing and attachment, knowledge of parenting and of child and youth development, parental resilience, social connections, concrete support for parents, and social and emotional competence of children.
Nurturing and attachment is the development of a bond between a caring adult and a child early in life. Researchers have found that babies who receive attention and nurturing from their parents have the best chance at healthy development. Early nurturing and affection results in kids with better grades, healthy behavior, positive peer relationships, and better coping mechanisms.
Knowledge of parenting and of child and youth development are skills like respectful communication and listening, consistent rules and expectations, and safe promotion of independence. Those skills result in kids with school success, improves curiosity and exploration and promotes achievement.
Parental resilience is the development of strong, healthy coping skills. Raising kids is stressful by itself and the addition of job stresses, marital stresses, financial stresses and/or any other kind of stress can mean multiple stressors at the same time which can tax coping skills to their breaking point. Parental resilience helps parents not break and have their child be the collateral damage. Social connections are exactly what they sound like. Having friends, family, and other resources available to talk to when they need support.
Researchers have found that isolated parents are more likely to abuse children than those with strong emotional connections to others. Concrete support for parents is community resources that help prevent stressors and things like unintended neglect that can come with poverty. 2-1-1.org is a great resource for finding community resources to help families in need of that support. Social and emotional competence of children comes from parents who model healthy emotional behavior.
Parents who manage their anger well show their children how to do the same. Parents who make friends, communicate emotions effectively, and self-regulate also demonstrate those behaviors to their kids, who in turn are more socially and emotionally aware. 2-1-1.org can also help in finding resources in helping learn and then model healthy emotional and social behavior in children.
The US Department of Health and Human Services has a very detailed guidelines for developing protective factors in their 2021/2022 Prevention Resource Guide. You can find that online at childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/guide_2021.pdf
By Carol A. Cates, MSN, MBA, RN
Chief Nursing Officer
Odessa Regional Medical Center