Evidence Shows We Can Prevent Child Abuse

By Howard Garval, President and Chief Executive Officer, Child & Family Service

Each year, we mark national Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, first declared by a presidential proclamation in 1983, to acknowledge the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse. Is there anything more important that we as a society can do than prevent child abuse? I would answer this question with a very strong “No”!

Thanks to the collective efforts of government, community organizations and nonprofits across the country and in Hawai‘i, 30-plus years later we are seeing that meeting families where they are and helping parents nurture their children is making measurable impact on preventing child abuse in our communities.

In the nonprofit world, evidence-based outcomes, or science that works, play a crucial role in our collective ability to deliver services that have been researched to prove effectiveness, and thus make quality and financial sense. At Child & Family Service, we use evidence-based models across the full range of our family strengthening programs, including child, youth, domestic violence as well as gerontology program areas.

That includes our CFS Healthy Families Program, which provides comprehensive home visitation services to prenatal families or families with newborn infants, until baby turns three years old. We use a team approach that offers monitoring of the medical home, child development services, a parenting curriculum, community resource referrals, monthly socialization groups and short-term clinical services.

Over 99% of families who participate in CFS Healthy Families for one year or more have no reports of abuse, and these are families who have been identified as being at high risk for abuse.

The evidence bears out the impact of these family-centered programs. Over 99% of families who participate in CFS Healthy Families for one year or more have no reports of abuse, and these are families who have been identified as being at high risk for abuse.

The Healthy Families program, also known as Healthy Start, started as a demonstration child abuse project in 1985. Funded by the Hawaii State Department of Health, this Hawaii-based initiative today is a nationally recognized program that has been replicated on the mainland and in Canada as well as in the Philippines. Our Healthy Families Program is accredited by Healthy Families America, one of the evidence-based programs that the federal government has recognized for child abuse prevention.

There is a growing body of evidence that early intervention programs such as Healthy Families also play a role in preventing health and social problems later in life.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study), a research study conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has linked childhood trauma to long-term health and social consequences.

One of the largest scientific studies of its kind with more than 17,000 participants, over the course of a decade the results demonstrated a strong, graded relationship between the level of traumatic stress in childhood and poor physical, mental and behavioral outcomes later in life. Those ranged from behavioral issues such as difficulty learning or focusing in school and increased smoking or substance abuse, to chronic health conditions including heart disease, cancer and diabetes. If we can prevent childhood trauma like child abuse, the long-term implications are huge in both improved lives and cost savings in the health care system.

Research is also showing the connection between childhood trauma and poverty. This past month the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new recommendations urging doctors to ask at all well-child visits whether families are able to make ends meet. Children living in poverty can face a number of health problems that could affect them for their entire lives. Stressed parents who are worried about housing or where the next meal is coming from are not as able to nurture their young babies, which is important for proper development.

CFS Healthy Families professionals partner with families to address individual needs, set and support goals and build an environment around the parent and child that supports healthy attachment, safety and developmental stimulation. Community programs like these make an early connection that has proven to have life-long impact.

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