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No Excuse for Child Abuse in North Carolina

During April, which is designated as National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we recognize the importance of families and communities working together to strengthen families to prevent child abuse and neglect. Community-level collaborations, prevention services, trauma-informed practices, and evidence-based training supports help protect children and ensure thriving families.

In North Carolina, a child is mistreated every 15 minutes by a parent or caretaker. Effects of maltreatment on the social, cognitive, and emotional development of children can have devastating long-term effects on wellness and health, and, in many cases, cause irreparable harm. The pandemic’s remote-learning situation over the last two years may have contributed to elevated reports of child maltreatment.

From a policy standpoint, North Carolina’s child protection laws and policies have been nationally rated as average. The state currently has no centralized reporting mechanism, allowing data to potentially be underreported or unrecorded. North Carolina does have a universal mandated reporting statute for a variety of professionals, including teachers, childcare and healthcare providers, clergy, and volunteers, among others. Any individual who interacts with children in any aspect is legally required to report any suspected maltreatment. While this mandated reporting is important, there is no required training for reporters, an addition that would likely provide better trauma-informed practices.

Several evidence-based curriculums emphasize five key protective factors that can help protect children from maltreatment. These factors include resiliency, social connections, access to support when needed (crisis), knowledge of parenting and child development principles, and promotion of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) skills for children.

All can play a role in supporting families to prevent child abuse and neglect. Following are a few suggestions to help prevent child abuse:

  • Nurture your children and ensure that they know they are loved and special.

  • Help a friend, neighbor or relative who is a parent by providing respite childcare.

  • Take time for your own mental wellness and remain centered even in the midst of daily stressors.

All children deserve safe, stable, and nurturing environments to thrive. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can disrupt healthy brain development, leading to potential lifelong negative health outcomes.

In 2020, we partnered with one of our rural eastern North Carolina network agencies on a multi-disciplinary, community-centered whole family approach pilot program. The goal of the initiative was to strengthen multi-sector collaborations to address the public health crisis of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences/Environments). The initiative, NC H.E.A.L. (halt the cycle, educate all, address the trauma and learn resilience), includes trauma-informed, evidence-based curriculum, hands-on resources, community engagement, and advocacy goals. With very promising pilot outcomes, we are expanding the program to provide additional families with mental wellness and resiliency strategies.

For more information on NCCAA’s NC H.E.A.L. pilot program, contact Elle Evans Peterson, NCCAA Director of Health Policy and Equity

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