Effective ways to protect children from the risk of child abuse and neglect.

Kansas Children's Services League Logo - Stopping Child Abuse

Jamie VanCompernolle

Guest Post by Jamie VanCompernolle, LMSW, Assistant Director Healthy Families, Kansas Children’s Service League

We all want to live in neighborhoods and communities where families are safe and children thrive. But as individuals, sometimes we aren’t sure where to start to make that desire a reality.

The Center for the Study of Social Policy, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others have spent decades researching the causes of child abuse and neglect and the most effective methods of preventing it. Their research has identified Five Protective Factors that reduce or eliminate risk and promote healthy development and well-being of children and families.

Protective factors can serve as buffers helping parents find resources, supports or coping strategies that allow them to parent effectively even under stress. The following list[i] outlines each of the Five Protective Factors and simple actions each of us can do to help promote these in our own families and communities.

1. Parental Resilience

Parents who can cope with the stresses of everyday life, as well as an occasional crisis, have resilience – the flexibility and inner strength to bounce back when things are not going well. This ability serves as a model of coping behavior for their children as well as helping them to develop resilience at a young age.

You can support Parental Resilience by:

    • Helping parents find ways to make time for themselves and practice self-care;
    • Teaching concrete strategies for relaxation such as deep breathing; and
    • Working with parents to anticipate difficulties and problem solve.

2. Social Connections

Parents with a network of emotionally supportive friends, family and neighbors often find that it is easier to care for their children and themselves. Research has shown that parents who are isolated and have few social connections are at higher risk for child abuse and neglect.

You can encourage Social Connections by:

    • Planning events where parents can meet other families and build new connections;
    • Creating opportunities for parents to be a part of planning social events that reflect their interests or culture; and
    • Hosting special outreach activities for fathers, grandparents and other extended family members.

3. Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development

Parents who understand the usual course for child development are more likely to be able to provide their children with respectful communication, consistent rules and expectations, developmentally appropriate limits and opportunities that promote independence. They are less likely to become frustrated and resort to harsh discipline out of lack of knowledge.

You can promote Parenting Knowledge by:

  • Encouraging parents to see the world from their child’s point of view;
  • Talking to parents about what children typically do at different ages; and
  • Encouraging parents to participate in support groups or parenting classes to learn more.

4. Concrete Support in Times of Need

Families whose basic needs (food, clothing, housing and transportation) are met have more time and energy to devote to their children’s safety and well-being. When parents do not have steady financial resources, stable housing, lack health insurance or face a family crisis, their ability to support their children’s healthy development may be at risk.

You can provide Concrete Support by:

    • Helping parents learn how to navigate service systems, ask for help and advocate for themselves to receive needed support;
    • Distributing local resource guides with information on community resources for things such as food banks, mental health centers, homeless services, etc.; and
    • Encouraging parents to call the Parent Helpline (1-800-CHILDREN) or download the Parent Helpline app to find resources to meet specific needs.

5. Social-Emotional Competence of Children

Parents and caregivers grow more responsive to children’s needs – and less likely to feel stressed or frustrated – as children learn to tell parents what they need and how parental actions makes them feel rather than “acting out” difficult feelings.

You can urge Social-Emotional Competence by:

    • Engaging parents and children in a game or art activity that helps children learn to express themselves in ways other than words;
    • Creating a lending library of picture books about coping with different emotions for parents to read with their children; and
    • Teaching parents which social and emotional skills children develop at different ages.

I hope this list will spur ideas that can be implemented by individuals, neighborhoods, schools, churches and communities. Supporting families and ensuring parents have the knowledge, skills and resources they need are effective ways to protect children from the risk of child abuse and neglect. We all can play a role in building healthier communities and creating hope for families!

[i] This information is based on the annual prevention resource guide published by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau, Office on Child Abuse and Neglect.

About Kansas Children’s Service League

Kansas Children’s Service League (KCSL) is a statewide not-for-profit agency with 125 years of experience keeping kids safe and strengthening families in Kansas. KCSL serves more than 40,000 children and their families each year through a variety of community-based and child abuse prevention programs. KCSL’s mission is to protect and promote the well-being of children. Our services and advocacy efforts focus on preventing child abuse, strengthening families and empowering parents and youth. KCSL is also the Kansas chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America and Circle of Parents and a Kansas multi-site system of Healthy Families America. KCSL sponsors Healthy Families, a home visitation program that provides supports to struggling families of young children, in 23 Kansas counties including Johnson, Miami, Wyandotte and Leavenworth Counties. Learn more at kcsl.org/HealthyFamilies.aspx.