Child abuse and neglect is a problem in our community. In 2011, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services “2011 Child Welfare Data Book,” over 450 Central Oregon children were abused or neglected, most of them by their own families. Research shows that up to three times as many additional children live with the secret pain of abuse and neglect without ever being investigated as possible victims of abuse. Most of these children are younger than 6 years old, a critical time of social, emotional and cognitive development.
Science tells us that toxic stressors in a child’s environment (the kind of stress caused by long-term, persistent factors such as maternal depression, extreme poverty and abuse or neglect) can affect the architecture of the developing brain. Too much stress is bad for anyone and can be devastating to child development. Abuse and neglect often have lifelong consequences for a child, including a greater chance of delinquency, youth violence, criminal involvement, drug addiction, teen pregnancy, chronic health problems, mental health issues and an overall drop-off in productivity of the individual as a functioning member of our community.
The full cost of child abuse is nearly impossible to calculate, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently estimated the lifetime cost for each victim of child maltreatment to be $210,000, resulting in nearly $95 million of accrued expense for Central Oregon in 2011. The ACE study, conducted by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente, established a strong link between adverse childhood experiences, including abuse and neglect, and later-in-life health problems such as cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Young children’s well-being is first defined by their experiences at home. We know most parents do the best they can for their children, but many families need help becoming successful parents while also handling the daily struggles of life. Economic struggles, domestic violence, addiction and mental illness, parental isolation, stress, limited understanding of a child’s emotional and cognitive needs and frustration regarding ineffective parenting techniques are the risk factors that can lead to child neglect and maltreatment. These factors can also be exacerbated by a limited or nonexistent circle of extended family or friends to share the load.
It’s not enough to know about the problem; we have to pay attention to the problem and address its consequences, and we have to pay attention to the kinds of efforts that will prevent it from happening in the first place.
The actions we take to promote healthy child development are the very actions that help prevent child abuse and neglect. We can help insure that parents in our community have more access to parenting education, home visitation services, relief nursery services and substance abuse and mental health programs, all of which help keep our children safe. Communities that work to create good school systems, have affordable, quality child care and come together to ensure that affordable housing is available in good, safe neighborhoods are less likely to see stressed, isolated families who don’t know where to turn in times of need.
You can help transform our community to a place where children are nurtured, born healthy and enter school ready to learn, by purchasing a “Keep Kids Safe” license plate. Revenue from the sale of the “Keep Kids Safe” license plate will come back to our community to fund vital child abuse prevention programs. Learn more at www.ctfo.org/kkslicenseplate.
Please give Central Oregon’s children the opportunity to be born healthy, nurtured and enter school ready to learn by purchasing a “Keep Kids Safe” license plate.