06 March 2009

Making the Case for Child Abuse Prevention: Action Steps for Memphis and Shelby County

Sadly, the local news is reporting this week on the death of 11 month-old Midtown Memphis boy. Investigators believe that the boy is a victim of child abuse and died after sustaining severe head injuries (Holmes, 2009).

Unfortunately, too many children in our community become victims of child abuse and neglect. Between October 2006 and September 2007, 8, 698 children in Shelby County were the subject of child maltreatment investigations (fosteringcourtimprovement.org). In 2008, 14 children in our community were killed in domestic violence related incidents (Holmes, 2009).

Child abuse can result in extreme physical injury and death; furthermore, science shows us that early childhood trauma - physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect - dramatically affects both the structure and chemistry of the developing brain, thus causing the behavioral and learning problems that plague about three-quarters of the children mired in the child welfare system (Kendall, 2002). Maltreatment increases a child’s risk of developing self-destructive behavior, alcohol and drug problems, delinquency and more. An abused child is not incapable of healthy functioning later in later; however, the expenditures (in human distress and suffering, loss of potential, and real money) of attempting to mend, remediate, or restore these children far exceeds the costs of preventing these issues by promoting healthy development in the first few years of life (Hawley, 2000).

The FRIENDS National Resource for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention offers a summary of cost effective best-practice child abuse prevention strategies. The full report can be accessed at http://www.friendsnrc.org/download/Report1.pdf.

Given the importance of preventing child abuse and neglect and the wide range of strategies for prevention available, there is no reason to delay investments in order to protect our youngest citizens from harm and neglect.

Consider the following steps:

1. Build effective partnerships with important partners in prevention, including community based child abuse prevention programs, the faith community, early childhood programs, schools, health care providers and other relevant entities.

2. Engage parent leaders who have experience using services to strengthen their families as key partners in planning, implementing and evaluating prevention activities.

3. Review national models of prevention programs and incorporate those that best fit the community’s needs and interests.

Fostering Court Improvement. (2008). “Statistics for Shelby County.” Retrieved March 6, 2009 from http://fosteringcourtimprovement.org/tn/

Hawley, T. (2000). Starting smart: How early experiences affect brain development. Zero to Three/Ounce of Prevention Fund. Retrieved March 6, 2009 from http://www.zerotothree.org/site/DocServer/startingsmart.pdf?docID=2422

Holmes, K. (2009, March 5). Memphis man charged with beating 11 month-old to death.
Eyewitness News. Retrieved March 6, 2009 from http://www.myeyewitnessnews.com/news/local/story/Memphis-Man-Charged-With-Beating-11-Month-Old-To/QLmaR_jfxEuBIiKIYfHGzw.cspx?rss=59

Kendall, J. (2002, September 24). How child abuse and neglect damage the brain. The Boston
Globe, pp. C1.

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