Child abuse never entered my mind until I stumbled into the Prevent Child Abuse Louisiana office in 2002 trying to complete a project for my class at LSU. Flash forward 14 years, and I can’t imagine spending a day NOT thinking about it. The victims last year in Louisiana alone could fill 530 elementary school classrooms. And 39 Louisiana children lost their lives to abuse and neglect last year. I can’t get the image of those 39 empty desks out of my mind. Can you imagine our outrage and action if we were losing 39 children a year to an illness or to a ride at an amusement park?
The good news is that child abuse and neglect is 100% preventable. And we all have a role to play in prevention. These are OUR children, and they will become our neighbors, our doctors and nurses, our leaders, our teachers, our nursing home attendants, our law enforcement officers. They are OUR future. I want these kids to have the same opportunities as my kids. I want them to grow up happy and healthy and free from abuse and neglect. I want them to learn that violence isn’t the answer. I want their brains to be built through nurturing connections and relationships with safe, stable, nurturing adults. I want them to be wildly successful in life. I want them to become responsible, productive adults. I want them to contribute to the world in a way that leaves this place better than they found it.
So how do we do that? We support each other. We recognize when parents are struggling and offer to lend a hand. We connect families to resources, like substance abuse treatment and mental health counseling. We take the time to learn about child development and what is developmentally appropriate to expect of our kids at different ages and stages. We make sure all the children in our lives know that they can count on us for safety and support. We volunteer. We mentor. We talk to our kids about safe and healthy touch and trusting our instincts. We talk to our kids about their bodies and teach them that it is okay to speak up when someone makes them uncomfortable. We pay attention to isolated families and work to pull them into our fold so that they, too, feel a part of this community. We work to minimize situations that involve one adult and one child. We support family-friendly policies and quality early care and education. We model patience and respect for others. We ask our churches and schools to offer parenting workshops or training on child sexual abuse prevention. If we suspect abuse, we report it.
Louisiana is spending $1.2 billion a year on the aftermath of child abuse and neglect. We can pay now or pay later. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather get it right from the start. New research shows that adverse childhood experiences, like abuse and neglect and general household dysfunction, lead to a lifetime of health problems. Let’s start putting safe, happy, healthy children first so we won’t be last. Imagine if we could look back in ten years and find Louisiana no longer at the bottom of every list of state rankings. Imagine if we were a state that valued children, strengthened families and engaged communities.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. There are so many ways to actively prevent child abuse. Choose one! Visit www.pcal.org for more information or call 1-800-CHILDREN for anonymous, confidential parenting support and referrals to community resources. Let’s be the generation that turns the tide on child abuse.
Amanda Brunson has served as executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Louisiana since 2009. She earned a bachelor’s degree in family, child and consumer sciences from Louisiana State University. She is married and a mother of three children.