Each year, April is designated as child abuse prevention month by public officials all over the United States and it serves as a reminder of the need to focus on healthy child development. Happy, healthy children grow into happy, healthy, and productive adults and strengthen the economic and social fabric of our community.
Given the United States’ rank in child well-being in a recent UNICEF report, we need to focus extra hard this year. The UNICEF report released last May showed that the U.S. is ranked 32nd out of 34 industrialized nations in terms of child poverty, with 23.1 percent of children living in relative poverty. Other UNICEF reports have shown similar disappointments: A 2011 report shows our country is ranked 26th out of 29th for overall child well-being, and was ranked in the bottom third in every category measured including material well-being, health and safety, education, behaviors and risks, and housing and environment.
Pennsylvania Department of Health statistics tell us that in Philadelphia, more than one-third of all children live in poverty and that the city’s infant death rate is almost 50 percent higher than Pennsylvania as a whole, at 10.7 per 1000 here, compared to 7.3 for Pennsylvania. We know that almost half of all pregnant moms did not receive prenatal care in their first trimester. We know that more than half of all kids have smoked a cigarette by the time they graduate high school, and 10 percent of them smoked before the age of 13. We need to reverse these trends.
Child Abuse Prevention month should be a reminder that overstressed families need our support. By far, the most common form of child maltreatment is neglect, which is often a byproduct of parents suffering from some combination of economic hardship, addiction, mental health issues and lack of knowledge about how to meet their child’s needs. There are many things we can do to help break this cycle.
Coaches, teachers, babysitters and health care professionals work with children every day and are already working to move our community and this country toward being a greater place for children. But even if you don’t work with or around children, you still can have a positive impact on their development!
You can have a meaningful impact on the lives of children by donating time and money to prevention organizations, taking the time to volunteer for child-serving organizations, or offering to help families in your own extended family, congregation and neighborhood. Actions like these help bring communities together, reduce isolation and help children and families succeed by providing them with the tools and resources for healthy development.
If we all pledge to do each of these activities at least once during the month of April, we can make a real difference. If we continue to take steps like these throughout the year and on, we can help make Philadelphia, and our country the best place in the world for children to grow.
Rosenzweig is also author of The Sex-Wise Parent: The Parents Guide to Protecting Your Child, Strengthening Your Family and Talking to Kids about Sex, Abuse and Bullying. For more information, read her blog and follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter.