April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. This year marks the 30th anniversary of this national effort to promote awareness of child abuse and neglect.
And while the incidence of child maltreatment has declined, the most recent data available indicates an estimated 681,000 victims of child abuse and neglect in 2011. Four-fifths of these children (78 percent) experienced neglect, 18 percent experienced physical abuse and 9 percent experienced sexual abuse.
Here in Massachusetts, the Department of Children and Families reports that in 2010, among maltreated children, 21,952 (91 percent) were found to have been neglected, 3,212 (13 percent) were physically abused and 801 (3 percent) were sexually abused. It should be noted that these numbers do not account for all incidents of maltreatment; they refer only to children who are known to child protection agencies.
Child abuse and neglect do not occur in a vacuum. Individual, family and social factors often play a role and shape the extent to which children are at risk. Issues such as parents’ lack of understanding of child development, substance abuse, domestic violence, poverty and socioeconomic disadvantage, and community violence have all been identified as contributing to the incidence of child abuse and neglect.
Alternatively, protective factors such as parent-child attachment, social connections, parental resilience, and concrete support for parents can shield children from maltreatment. Therefore, we must not only focus on decreasing risk factors, but also give attention to increasing protective factors, many of which call for strengthening parents so they can provide nurturing and safe environments for their children. Just as we, as a community, have a responsibility to report suspicions of child maltreatment, we must also play a role in supporting the safety, permanency and well-being of children and their families.
Taking on this role requires an awareness of the connection between state investments and policies and child well-being. Last year, the Foundation for Child Development released a report that provides a state-by-state measure of the quality of children’s lives using the Child Well-Being Index. According to the report, there is a strong relationship between state tax rates, the size of state investments in children and children’s well-being. States with higher tax rates generate higher revenues and have higher rates of overall child well-being than states with lower tax rates.