The month of April is National Child Abuse Protection Month, but of course every day of every month a child may be subjected to abuse at home. While it is important to recognize warning signs of abuse and neglect so that every child gets the immediate help they need, many wonder if there are ways to prevent child abuse and neglect from happening in the first place. In fact, there are a number of protective factors that can make a difference in a child and their family’s lives and everyone can play a role in preventing child abuse and neglect.
Protective factors are a set of characteristics that can reduce the risk of adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s) – experiences which include traumatic events occurring before age 18. “Adverse childhood experiences include all types of abuse and neglect as well as parental mental illness, substance use, divorce, incarceration, and domestic violence.” Knowing and acting upon the five protective factors that reduce ACE’s can help families and communities turn the tables on child abuse and neglect:
1. Parental resilience or an ability to constructively cope with and bounce back from all types of challenges is an important protective factor. Encouragement and support at a personal or community level helps parents to maintain a more positive attitude knowing they are not alone in it – that they are doing ok as parents.
2. Social connections such as family, friends, neighbors and other community members are key protective factors, but many do not have close friends or family nearby. Relationships with neighbors, workmates, and other parents, or being invited to join community events or groups, offers support to parents who may not have social connections as a protective factor.
3. Concrete support in times of need. Many are facing adversity related to Covid-19 whether it is health concerns, mounting financial problems, or feeling isolated. However, for many families, today’s uncertainty is a fact of everyday life. Not enough money to cover the basics like food, shelter and clothing; a sense of not belonging; and chronic medical conditions are issues families grapple with everyday. Community support such as food banks, outreach groups, and compassionate medical care provide needed support as do friends, family and neighbors willing to pick up groceries or a needed prescription or giving a neighbor a ride to work or school.
4. Knowledge of parenting and child development. No doubt about it, raising children is challenging. Understanding childhood development can help parents cope with the demands of parenting.
5. Social and emotional competence of children enables kids to understand and properly label different emotions in themselves and others. Kids that suffer childhood neglect and abuse sometimes struggle to make sense of their experiences even into adulthood, let alone trying to understand the feelings of those around them. Developing what many call emotional intelligence – self and social awareness, empathy, forgiveness, and gratitude – is a protective factor which greatly increases a child’s chance of success.
Some families may have some protective factors such as strong family or community ties but may lack knowledge of child development. Others may have a great understanding of their children, but lack support of family, friends or community especially in times of acute need. There is no one size fits all, but being aware of what protective factors are puts everyone in a better position to help. Advocating for policies or programs to improve protective factors in your community to just lending an ear and sharing your experiences with fellow parents are protective factors that can prevent child abuse and neglect.
A child custody attorney can protect and advocate for the best interests of the child to the court. To get help with child abuse, domestic violence and emergency protective orders or to learn more about the role of a child custody attorney in Illinois family law, call or e-mail our Lake County family law attorneys at 847-680-4970 for help..