Child abuse prevention: Be a force for good in a child’s life

Research on the subject of child abuse and neglect is more robust than ever. In 1974, the first federal legislation, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Actwas enacted. That year, three articles on child abuse and neglect were published in medical journals. In 2013, nearly 40 years later, more than 300 articles on the topic appeared in peer-reviewed journals.

Scientists are unravelling the undesirable effects of “toxic” stress on early brain development. Long-term health outcomes associated with adverse childhood experiences — obesity, hypertension, stroke, diabetes and depression — are now well-described in both adults and adolescents.

These discoveries are irrefutable evidence that prevention of child abuse and neglect can have measurable impact across the lifespan of a child. Furthermore, research has identified practices that can lower a child’s risk of abuse.

Breastfeeding, parent treatment for mental illness, and mothers’ high school graduation or the equivalent promotes infant attachment and parental resilience. Educating parents about early child development and normalcy of baby’s crying fosters confidence and competency, easing the adjustment to a new baby.

National campaigns, such as Pinwheels for Prevention, help raise awareness. Their magic lies in stimulating individual and organized grass roots efforts to support families and strengthen neighborhoods.

Catching sight of the pinwheels at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in the month of April affords an opportunity to reflect on the more than 9,500 children in Oregon who were victims of child maltreatment in 2012, and on how you might become part of the solution.

You might think you don’t know any children who are abused or neglected. But perhaps you do know a family that has fallen on hard times or a child who is bullied or appears isolated. It may even be a relative or a neighbor or your child’s teammate. Anything you or your community might do to buffer “toxic” stress, transforming it into a “tolerable” stress, will lessen the physiologic impact and alter the biochemistry.

A stable source of adult nurturance in a child’s life can foster resilience to many common disease outcomes in adulthood. Could compassion now impact the public health of future generations?

Be a force for good in a child’s life.

Tamara Grigsby, M.D.
Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect Program
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital



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