April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time for communities to raise awareness and promote strategies that address the risk factors surrounding child abuse.
Children are some of the most vulnerable members of society. According to a recent analysis of National Survey of Children Exposed to Violence data from 2011 and 2014, of the 8,503 children and youth surveyed, 3.4 percent of the participants had a violence-related medical visit at some time in their lives, and 1.9 percent in just the past year, equivalent to approximately 1.4 million children and youth. Yet, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, just 11.6 percent of children between the ages of 12–17 who are victims of serious violence report that they received assistance from victim service agencies. Left unaddressed, victimization can have serious, long-lasting consequences for children’s physical and mental health.
In his recent proclamation, President Biden stated that “One of the most important tools to break the cycle and eliminate the tragedy of child abuse and neglect is prevention. This requires that we support and uplift our communities, families, and individuals so that our children can be raised in safe, loving, and healthy environments.”
The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), part of the Office for Justice Programs (OJP) within the Department of Justice (DOJ), funds a comprehensive, multidisciplinary range of services and resources designed to help communities, families, and individuals respond to child abuse and heal from the trauma it causes. One important component of that effort is Child Safety Forward, a national initiative funded through OVC’s Reducing Child Fatalities and Recurring Child Injuries Caused by Crime Victimization program. This initiative is developing multidisciplinary strategies and public health responses to address fatalities or near-death injuries as a result of child abuse, neglect, or unsafe practices.
In 2019, Child Safety Forward funded five initial demonstration sites. Their impacts are already being felt. In Hartford, Connecticut, St. Francis Hospital identified a higher-than-average number of unsafe sleep deaths among African American infants. To address the issue, St. Francis began working with parents to develop and disseminate culturally appropriate safe sleep messages for their communities. One outcome was a focus on proactive education: parents created a list of topics on which they wanted to be educated that informed a “Child Safety” curriculum accessible to parents.
Cook County Health, a network of hospitals in Illinois, closely reviewed approximately 300 sudden unexpected infant deaths over the previous five years and determined they were likely related to unsafe sleep conditions. Based on these findings, they can now strategically target resources to specific neighborhoods that had a higher rate of sudden unexpected infant death and provide educational interventions to protect families from these tragedies.
In FY 2022, we hope to fund an implementation study related to this program that will summarize the work done by the five demonstration sites and highlight site evaluations, lessons learned, and outcomes. We also hope to award $2 million in funding to continue supporting children, youth, and families who have been victimized due to America's drug crisis by expanding, enhancing, and formalizing innovative, field-generated projects tailored to meet the needs of child and youth crime victims, and their nonoffending family members. For more information about the Building Capacity to Serve Children and Youth Impacted by America's Drug Crisis program and other OVC funding initiatives, visit the DOJ Program Plan and OVC’s Current Funding Opportunities webpage.
OVC also conducts trainings and creates educational materials designed to help service providers, administrators, and allied organizations respond to child abuse. On April 5, 2022, OVC hosted a webinar to discuss the Child Victims and Witnesses Support Materials, developmentally appropriate comic books and graphic novels that support children and youth (ages 2–18) during their involvement with the justice system as victims or witnesses to crime. The presentation focused on the genesis of the materials, created by the Center for Court Innovation with funding from OVC, and the panelists provided thoughtful insight into their impact. For example, Chris Newlin, Executive Director of the National Children’s Advocacy Center, emphasized how the resources can help children and the adults who are supporting them through the process. And Suamhirs Piraino-Guzman, a Partnerships Manager at King County Department of Community and Human Services and a lived experience expert, noted that the stories are helping more children and youth make informed decisions about how to participate in the process. The materials have been translated into Arabic, Chinese (simplified), Haitian Creole, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
OVC has a wealth of other resources that supports the field’s responses to child abuse. The Building Better Childhoods website, funded in part by OVC and developed by Social Current and Prevent Child Abuse America, provides important guidance on how to talk about child abuse prevention in a way that resonates with a broad range of audiences. The tools can be used when communicating with media, funders, policymakers, and the general public. Reframing Childhood Adversity: Promoting Upstream Approaches, meanwhile, offers communications guidance that takes recent science and current communications contexts into account, speaks to racial and social justice, and aligns with efforts to reimagine child welfare systems into child well-being systems.
In closing, I encourage all of you to visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway website, which features an outreach toolkit, sample messages, and graphics to help raise awareness about child abuse prevention. Other critical resources can be found on OVC’s Child and Youth Victimization topic page.
On behalf of the entire OVC team, thank you for the work you do every day on behalf of the most vulnerable among us.