Give at-risk children a healthy start

This article also ran in the April 11, 2018 edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Click here to view (subscription required)

By Karen Tan.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month as well as Prevent Child Abuse Month across our nation and our state. As nonprofit and community organizations come together with month-long activities to raise awareness of these serious family issues, keeping a focus on preventing abuse, and addressing abuse and neglect as soon as possible if it is already evident, can have lifelong impact on our children and their future.

Child abuse and neglect describes all forms of physical and emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence and any other exploitation that harms the health, development, dignity or survival of a child under the age of 18 years. The World Health Organization states that worldwide around 20 percent of women and 5-10 percent of men report being sexually abused as children, while 23 percent of individuals report being physically abused during childhood.

The American Journal of Psychiatry has found an association between child abuse and the reduction of gray matter in the brain that is responsible for information processing. The research found that the individuals who had been exposed to childhood maltreatment had much smaller volumes of gray matter in certain brain areas, compared with those who had no history of child abuse. Since these brain regions develop relatively late — after the child abuse may have occurred — the Journal study says this may explain why some victims of child abuse typically have compromised cognitive control.

Preventing child abuse before it occurs is our community’s best opportunity to help our children to develop to their full potential mentally, physically and socially. At Child & Family Service, our Healthy Families program is a national model that started in our state to prevent child abuse and neglect by helping at-risk families in the first three years of children’s lives.

Parents of newborn children are screened and if found to be at risk for child abuse and neglect, are invited to enroll in the program. Families receive support from trained professionals, who provide parenting education, model effective parent-child interaction, and ensure that each child has a primary care physician. Over 99 percnt of parents who participate in the program for a year or more have no results of abuse.

For families already dealing with the trauma of abuse and neglect, early intervention can still have life changing impact for children and give them hope for healthy brain and emotional development. All of our professional staff is trained in Risking Connection®, an evidence-based program that addresses trauma through the lens of its root causes rather than treating behavior. We work with the whole family to help them to achieve positive parenting skills and support their children with love and care. We have been pleased to work with other nonprofits and to train them in this program and in measuring the results of their efforts as well, and as a community, to learn cooperatively with the interests of families at the forefront.

Keeping our children safe and healthy is a community effort that no one organization can achieve by working alone. Nonprofits and community organizations across the state deserve our support and participation to make meaningful and lasting change for our keiki. Through these collaborative efforts, our social services community can collectively help our children as well as parents to heal from trauma, to be nurtured as strong families, and to in turn nurture our future generations with strength and caring as well.

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