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Apr 22

Parents as Teachers Offers Resources to Prevent Child Abuse

April was first declared Child Abuse Prevention Month by presidential proclamation in 1983. Since then, April has been a time to acknowledge the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse. In Child Maltreatment 2011, it was reported that in FFY 2011 in the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, an estimated 676,596 children were victims of child abuse; and 1,545 children died as a result of abuse or neglect. The majority of child abuse cases stemmed from situations and conditions that could have been prevented if community programs and systems were engaged and supportive. A community that cares about early childhood development, parental support, and maternal mental health, for instance, is more likely to foster nurturing families and healthy children.

Ringgold County is a good example of a county that cares and supports children and families. Generally, child abuse/maltreatment is often correlated with areas that have a high poverty rate.  In 2010 Ringgold County had the highest rate of children living in poverty of the 99 counties with a rate of 29.5% (Kids Count, 2010). However, Ringgold County ranked 87th of the 99 counties in the state of Iowa for child abuse.

A body of research has identified factors known to prevent and reduce child abuse and neglect. These factors include parental resilience, nurturing and attachment, social connections, knowledge about parenting and child development, social and emotional competence of children, and concrete supports for parents.  Locally Ringgold County Public Health Parents as Teachers (PAT) emphasizes these six protective factors as key elements to support and enhance child and family well-being.  PAT supports families in an effort to not only ensure all children develop to their fullest potential, but to support parents in their parenting journey.  Part of this journey includes preventing child maltreatment and promoting well-being of families.  Parents as Teachers works with a network of agencies in our area to help strengthen families.

Juggling demands of home, work and other responsibilities leaves many parents feeling like they never have enough time for their children.  There is no perfect parent.  Most parents are not aware of normal developmental milestones and behaviors.  Coping with everyday stress can be difficult and affects the ability to deal with children in productive ways.  Personal experiences can change the way one parents as well.  Sometimes a parent just needs someone to listen, give advice, or some support.  Families whose basic needs are not met (food, transportation, housing, clothing) find it difficult to devote time to the safety and well-being of their children.  Alcohol or drug use, financial difficulties, and domestic violence exposure isolates many parents.  Parenting can be challenging when children do not or cannot respond in a positive way to the nurturing and affection from those who love them.  All of these stressors can cause parents to react in a negative way to the relationship with their children and put children at an increased risk for maltreatment.

Participation in PAT services can help.  During a home visit, parent educators assist parents in learning that even the smallest acts of kindness — a hug, kiss or smile — will give their child a sense of security and attachment.  Children are screened on a regular basis to ensure that they are developing at a normal rate.  Milestones are reviewed with parents.   If a delay is found, we work together to see what the best plan is for the family.  Parents are connected with resources they need to provide a safe and healthy home environment for their family.  We help parents identify their own needs.  Together we will set goals to improve the well-being of the family.  Group connections provide a time for parents to share joys and frustrations while learning new ways to improve their parenting and relationships.

Parents as Teachers is offered through Ringgold County Public Health Agency.  The services are free to all qualifying Ringgold County residents with children 0-3 years old.  Contact Robin McDonnell, RN, at 641-464-0691 for more information.  PAT is funded by Ringgold County ECI (Empowerment) Area Board and DEKKO Foundation.