Child Abuse Prevention Starts With Supporting Vulnerable Families

May 5, 2022

photo by larry crayton

According to a 2020 report by the Children’s Bureau, more than 600,000 children across the nation are abused every year, or about 8 in 1000 children. In a troubling finding, children under a year old have the highest rates of victimization: about 25 in 1000. The most common form of maltreatment these children experience is neglect, reported in about 76% of cases. Other forms of maltreatment are less common, with 16.5% of victims experiencing physical abuse and 9.8% experiencing sexual abuse.

While these statistics may be alarming, they also underscore the work that can be done to prevent child abuse and neglect. Often, maltreatment occurs when families are lacking social support or caregivers are struggling with their personal lives. The CDC’s research indicates that the risk of abuse increases when caregivers are grappling with untreated substance abuse issues or other mental health issues, when they themselves were abused or neglected as children and when they haven’t had appropriate education on children’s needs and development. The risk is also higher in families where household members are incarcerated, and in communities with high rates of poverty and limited educational and economic opportunities.

In other words: child abuse and neglect are a public health issue, frequently tied into larger systems of oppression. Prevention needs to be focused on providing caregivers with the community support they need to be the best parents possible.

How LifeWorks NW Works to Prevent Child Abuse and Child Neglect

At Lifeworks NW, we have a variety of programs dedicated to prevention efforts. One of them is our Children’s Relief Nurseries, which provide support and help new parents gain the skills they need to create strong, supportive bonds with their children. Leslie Brown, program director of Multnomah County Children’s Relief Nursery says, “In a caregiving system, there needs to be a positive attachment that the child has with somebody, so we work to stabilize that.”

The Relief Nurseries offer a variety of services to help struggling caregivers. To enroll in these services, families must be experiencing at least five stressors that put them at risk – for example, a caregiver who is a single parent, a child with developmental delays, a family that lacks community support or has exposure to domestic or community violence. On average, the families we serve are experiencing 11-14 of these stress factors on initial intake. We monitor these factors every six months for as long as a family is in the program.

One of our major services is providing therapeutic classrooms focused on social and emotional development for children up to five-years-old, and respite care that allows parents to take time to run errands and attend to their own needs during the week. Classes are kept small – no more than six to eight students (depending on the age group), and they are always staffed by two teachers and a community volunteer. The nurseries also offer breakfast and lunch to students, prepared on-site by a professional chef, and staff sit and eat with the children to help develop a strong bond.

The program also carries out home visits with families. For families with children a year and under, these are weekly, and for older children they happen twice a month. These visits are based on a curriculum that helps families learn to interact with their child, and often the home visitor is the same teacher working with a child in the classroom.

“There are developmental assessments and monitoring,” Leslie explains. “We do case management and care coordination. We do parenting education. All of that happens at the home visits.”

We also offer parenting classes to help “make parenting a pleasure” twice a year. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been able to continue to offer these classes virtually. Help is even available for at-risk families before their child is born – pregnant parents-to-be can reach out to LifeWorks NW for support.

Additional parent and child prevention services at LifeWorks NW include Family & Community Alliance, Family Support & Connections, Healthy Families, and Promotoras. We’ll be exploring these other services in more detail in an upcoming post.

If you’re interested in enrolling a child in your life in our Relief Nurseries, please contact your nearest site for more information:

  • St Johns – Contact Leslie Brown at 503-459-2285
  • Gladstone and Hillsboro – Contact Denise Glascock at 503-713-9921

How You Can Help LifeWorks NW’s Children’s Relief Nurseries

We’re always looking for help at our relief nurseries.

“Our program is pretty well known as a good place for internships,” says Leslie. “Our interns gain quite a bit of professional experience. We also have a reputation for keeping our volunteers for years and years. But we’re always on the lookout for more.”

You can find more information about volunteering with the Children’s Relief Nurseries and apply on VolunteerMatch. Those interested in internship opportunities can use this contact form to reach out.