MY VOICE: The impact of abuse prevention
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Nothing in my abuse prevention work prepared me for the letter a Healthy Families client sent us. It immediately moved me to tears, and is a letter every social work professional longs to receive.
“I joined because I was afraid I would end up like my parents. I stay because Healthy Families gives me the tools not to. From the outside I looked like I had it all together, I had a good paying job, owned my own house, and had (and still have) a loving husband. On the inside I was a severely abused and neglected child. I knew nothing about how to lovingly care for a baby. I didn’t know you could give a sick feverish child a popsicle to help them feel better. I didn’t know how much baby food a 9 month old should be eating. Worst of all I didn’t believe parents naturally loved their children. I thought it was something that had to be taught and I needed to learn it!
I truly thank God for Healthy Families. I know first hand the difference it can make in someone’s life. How it can break a cycle of abuse when a parent wants the tools.
I told people I joined for the free books (ok that is a bit true), but I actually joined for the hope that I could be a good mom. I stay because I am a good mom.”
Union County Healthy Families is part of the state’s largest child abuse prevention program, Healthy Families Oregon. This research-proven, voluntary, in-the-home service offers first time parents the opportunity to learn how to nurture, how to parent and how to become more self-sufficient. It systemically helps families recognize their childhood history and offers science-based and doctor-recommended methods to counter their negative early childhood experiences. It educates parents about their child’s health and development so that their expectations of baby are age appropriate and reducing stress and frustration in the home. It also connects families with community resources such as housing, utility assistance, food banks, social groups and more.
Research has shown that homes experiencing abuse risk factors increases the chance a child will be abused in that home. Lack of education, trouble meeting basic needs like food, housing, health care, depression or mental health issues, drug or alcohol abuse, being an unwed parent and being under 18 are just some of those factors a parent can experience. According to a national study, Adverse Childhood Experiences affect adult health and wellness, and the more categories experienced, the greater the impact. A 2011 survey by the Oregon Health Authority found that 62 percent of Oregonians have experienced ACEs, such as domestic violence, incarceration of a household member, verbal, physical or sexual abuse, mental illness of a household member or parental separation or divorce. Twenty-six percent experienced three or more ACEs in our state, increasing their mental and physical health care needs in adulthood.
But abuse prevention programs such as Healthy Families, other home visiting services like Babies First, and parent education programs can strengthen positive nurturing and parenting skills. They can reduce the future cost of health care and basic needs in that child’s adulthood. This is one of the reasons it’s so important for health care, education, business and community to come together to both fiscally and socially support prevention programs. The economic impact of child abuse is real, documented and affecting communities every day, right here in Union County. Intervening during pregnancy or the first few weeks of a child’s life leaves a legacy of hope for the future. The author of that letter recognized how impactful abuse prevention can be. We know that our community can as well.
If you suspect abuse or neglect, please contact 541-963-8571 or 888-278-4411 toll free. You don’t have to prove it, just report it. Together we can change children’s lives.
About the author
Stacy Shown is a family advocate/home visitor for Union County Healthy Families, a program of Umatilla Morrow Head Start Incorporated. She is a certified family assessment interviewer and also the children and families coordinator for Southside of Heaven.
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