The holidays are over and the tree is down. For millions of families reality is setting in. Between the bills that will come due in January, the struggling economy and the stress that comes with it, it can be a very dangerous time for children. Experts say many parents who are overwhelmed often take out their anxieties and frustrations on their kids.
Child abuse and neglect can increase when families are under stress, in the middle of a crisis or at the “end of the rope.” In the last two years, physicians at the Center for Child and Family Advocacy (CCFA) at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, say that child abuse and neglect cases at the hospital are up 40 percent. In 2008 alone, they provided more inpatient consultations for suspected abuse and neglect than any year since the hospital has been compiling data.
In order to create and sustain safe homes for children, the CCFA at Nationwide Children’s Hospital provides a nurse home visitation program in which nurses visit the homes of first-time, low-income mothers every week for two and a half years, all free of charge. The nurses are partnered with these women no later then their 28th week of pregnancy through their child’s second birthday. The nurses help mom focus on prenatal care and nutrition, and once the baby is born, education and support for caring for their child. The idea is to assist moms in being the best parent they can be by focusing on their child’s needs and the importance mom making healthy choices in order to provide for her child in a safe environment. One of the focuses for the nurses is mom’s future once the baby is born. The nurse works with mom to reenroll in school or employment.
“When the stress of economic realities clashes with the challenges of raising a child, even parents who have the best intentions can harm or neglect their children,” said Yvette McGee Brown, president of the CCFA at Nationwide Children’s. “The best way to prevent child abuse and neglect is to provide parents with the support, skills and resources they need to be effective caregivers, particularly during this difficult time.”
There is no specific test that can determine if a child is at risk. However, when parents lose employment, worry about paying the rent or feeding their children, they often feel isolated and frustrated. Without support, some parents reach the breaking point and lash out at their children.
It is essential for all of us to be mindful of the risks of child maltreatment within our immediate surroundings and community.
“If you know of families or friends who are experiencing high levels of stress, look for ways to help alleviate the tension,” continued McGee Brown. “Offer to watch their children for a few hours, invite them over for dinner or stop by for a visit to give them support.”
Nationwide Children’s Hospital Offers These Tips:
Help ease tension in a public place
If a parent is having difficulties with their child, strike up a conversation with the adult to divert attention away from the child.
Try to get the child’s attention by talking to him/her.
Avoid negative remarks or looks. These can increase the parent’s anger and make matters worse.
Praise the child and parent at the first opportunity.
If a child is left unattended, stand by the child until the parent returns or contact an employee.
If you suspect abuse, call your local Children’s Services agency.
If the situation is violent or the child is in danger, call 911.
How to cool down in a moment of anger
Take a few deep breaths. Remember, you are the adult.
Close your eyes and imagine what your child is about to hear.
Press your lips together and count to 10.
Put some space between you and your child.
Turn on some music, and sing along.
Drink a glass of cold water.
Call a friend.
The Center for Child and Family Advocacy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital is the first facility of its kind in the United States to bring together a comprehensive range of programs and services that are directed toward the intervention and prevention of child abuse and family violence.