April is the month when we anticipate new life and young life. The tulips and first blades of grass poke through the ground and trees bud. Calves find their wobbly legs to dance on the hills. April is also Child Abuse Prevention Month, the month where additional focus is placed on the young lives placed in our care.
During 2012, 1,402 North Dakota children were found to be victims of child abuse and/or neglect and almost four times that number were suspected to be victims of child abuse or neglect. The fact is, one victim is too many.
Prevent Child Abuse ND reports that certain risk factors increase the chances of a child being abused or neglected: a lack of understanding of child development and other critical parenting issues; relationship difficulties; depression and other mental health problems; parenting young children (especially infants through 3 years); and financial and other struggles of daily living.
There are powerful protective factors to prevent abuse and neglect. One of them is you! Anyone can make a difference and be a positive influence in a child or family's life.
Support children and families and provide them with the skills and resources they need. Positive parenting skills can be learned. Parenting support and education is for all parents, not just those on the verge of collapse. Encourage parents to enroll in parenting sessions and child development classes.
Give parents a break. Parenting is rewarding, but can also come with more than a fair share of trying moments, days and sometimes years. Offer parents respite, a night out or an opportunity to have a weekend away from the kids. The break gives parents a chance to hit their refresh button and gain parenting perspective.
Be a very important person to a child. Children benefit from positive adult connections. They feel secure when they hear similar supportive and guiding messages from the adults in their life.
Notice positive parenting. Often, parents only receive feedback when parenting is not going well. Affirm positive parenting when you observe it. Adults, like children need cheerleaders.
And wear blue. Everyone is encouraged to wear blue each Friday in April to remember our children and focus on efforts to prevent child abuse.
Thank you for making a difference in a child's life.
(Holly M. Arnold is the Region 2 Parent Educator for the Ward County office of the North Dakota State University Extension Service.)