People are shaped by their experiences during childhood. This includes what happens in their environment and the types of relationships they have with parents, teachers, and other caregivers as they age and grow older. Safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments are essential to the long-term health of a child both physically and emotionally. For this reason, policies and programs that are supportive of children and families have been created and improved upon to help prevent child abuse and neglect.
By Melissa Anderson
The first federal child protection legislation, Child Abuse Prevention Treatment Act (CAPTA), was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on January 31, 1974. This marked the beginning of a new national response to the problem of child abuse and neglect. Nearly 10 years after CAPTA was signed, National Child Abuse Prevention Month was created by President Ronald Regan in 1983.
“Awareness is a big part of prevention and, particularly in rural communities, many individuals do not believe or understand that child abuse can be occurring,” Susan Fetsch-Crockett, Social Work supervisor for Cavalier and Pembina County Social Services, said. “Helping individuals learn what they can do to help prevent abuse and neglect is the best prevention. Support families, strengthen marriage, and help parents rear their children in positive and healthy environments.”
NDSU Extension has this idea at the heart of what they do to assist families and parents. As a whole, Extension services, particularly in Cavalier and Pembina Counties, work to provide research-based parent education through programs and resources to help parents add “tools” to their parenting toolbox. These “tools” aid parents with their most important job – parenting. The “tools” are used by families as they face everyday challenges and situations. “Of all the things that influence a child’s growth and development, the most critical is reliable, responsive, and sensitive parenting” (Lurie-Hurvitz, 2009).
“NDSU Extension focuses on strengthening families and promoting the social and emotional well-being of individuals and families,” Cavalier County Family Extension Agent Macine Lukach said.
The parent-child relationship is essential to the development and well-being of children. The construction of children’s brains can get interrupted by chronic stressful conditions such as extreme poverty, abuse, or lack of positive interaction with adults. By having a good understanding of child development, parents and caregivers will have more realistic expectations of their children and can provide guidance accordingly.
“When we help children do better today, we all do better tomorrow. Healthy child development is the foundation to help children do better today and all of us do better tomorrow,” Lukach said.
Going a step further by creating environments that are welcoming and encourage nurturing of children is one of most effective ways to create healthy development. Lukach explains that children need to know that they are special, loved and capable of following their dreams.
“Kids don’t come with instruction books. Sure would make life easier if they did! Raising children is one of life’s greatest rewards but can be tough,” Lukach said.
The role of being a parent is the most important job a person can undertake and, likely, the longest job they will ever have. Parents never quit being parents. In every career or job, employees receive training and update their skills, but yet as parents, taking advantage of parenting education opportunities are often overlooked. Lukach notes that in today’s competitive industry “we wouldn’t consider approaching a job with yesterday’s skills”. Times have changed, as have parenting strategies.
“I like the quote by Fred Rodgers, ‘Strengthen a parent and you strengthen a child.’ This is a key message as we look at our parenting responsibilities. Extension programming has a presence in many counties. The more parents and caregivers using positive parenting techniques in a community, the more likely others will hear and “catch” the positive parenting messages and use them, too,” Lukach shared.
From Fetsch-Crockett’s position as a social services supervisor over six child protection workers in the counties of Pembina, Cavalier, Walsh, Rolette, Benson, Towner, and Ramsey County, the duty of protecting children is a large one. Social services receive and assess reports of suspected child abuse and/or neglect and provide an intervention and if the family is in need, a warm hand-off to follow-up services. Fetsch-Crockett explained the whole purpose of child protective services is to reach out to families and assist them in getting services, if needed, and to help them to deal with the stress or problems they are having so children are not abused or neglected.
“Parents that abuse or neglect their children are not bad parents; they just need help and intervention,” Fetsch-Crockett said. “If you suspect abuse, reporting it can protect the child and get help for the family. A report is not considered an accusation- it is an expression of concern and a request for an assessment or evaluation of the child’s situation. Do not be afraid to report abuse or neglect.”
As a veteran social worker, Fetsch-Crockett is very familiar with the studies that have been conducted to determine if there are precursors to child abuse and neglect. Some of the more common things are stress (whether it be from poverty, poor housing, those types of things), major life crisis, animal abuse, domestic abuse and alcohol which could all play a major role as well as drug addiction.
“All of these factors can lead to or have an impact and increase the likelihood of the abuse, but abuse can happen in any family,” Fetsch-Crockett said.
The impact of child abuse may cause the children to feel they are bad and deserve it. They usually have poor self-esteem. Often these children can experience trauma, making it important they receive counseling as soon as possible. They need safe, stable and nurturing relationships and environments to recover from this trauma. Steps that can be taken by communities to prevent child abuse would be:
• Be a nurturing parent.
• Offer opportunities for parents to develop support systems.
• Help a friend, neighbor, or relative with their children and offer some time-out for them.
• Reach out and ask for help; don’t take it out on your kid.
• Link families to services and opportunities.
• Value and support parents.
• Promote programs in schools to teach children, parents, and teachers prevention strategies.
• If you believe or have reason to believe a child may be or has been harmed, call social services and report it immediately.
“Know that 90 percent of the youth that experience abuse actually know the abuser. We often think of stranger danger, but that is not the case,” Fetsch-Crockett said. “Teach your children to…trust their instinct and tell an adult if something doesn’t seem right, and never let anyone touch them in a way that feels uncomfortable, not even someone like a teacher, babysitter or close relative.”
Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota is engaging with communities through social media to mark Child Abuse Prevention Month by sharing information about preventing child abuse and neglect. Throughout April, Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota will be sharing prevention tips, activities, and educational messages on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to help all children have great childhoods.
Beginning April 18, Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota will be posting video interviews on topics relevant to child abuse and neglect prevention on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/preventchildabusend.
The posting schedule is as follows:
April 18 – Dr. Donald Warne, member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, director of the Indians into Medicine Program, associate dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and professor of family and community medicine at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, N.D., will present on historical trauma and nutritional epigenetics.
April 25 – Dr. Kathy Anderson of Mid Dakota Clinic in Bismarck is board certified in general pediatrics and integrative medicine and will talk about adverse childhood experiences, resiliency and improving pediatric health outcomes by broadening perspectives on health and disease.
April 30 – Laura Porter, co-founder of ACE Interface, LLC, which develops and disseminates educational products and empowerment strategies that help leaders dramatically improve population health, will talk about guiding N.E.A.R. (neuroscience, epigenetics, the Adverse Childhood Experience Study, and resilience) and provide training about these sciences systems and network theory supporting trauma-informed solutions.
To view these interviews, search Facebook for “Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota” or use the link provided below. Like the page to stay up-to-date on prevention activities throughout the state year-round. Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota and other community partners will be using the hashtag #greatchildhoods on all Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts, so they will be easily searchable.
For more information on child abuse prevention activities planned in April or to learn about child abuse prevention programs offered by Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota, visit www.pcand.org.
If you are concerned for a child(ren) please call either Cavalier or Pembina County Social Services at 701-256-2175 (Langdon) or 701-265-8441 (Walhalla).