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Preventing child abuse takes a village

Numbers that indicate adverse experiences in Emmet County children are up, but solutions are on the horizon

April 28, 2018
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

This April marks the 35th anniversary National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The month of April was first designated by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.

President Reagan said in his proclamation: Children may be endangered by physical battering, denial of the basic necessities for life and health, sexual abuse and exploitation, or emotional cruelty. Public concern can help prevent maltreatment and help protect children. Action taken after cruelty has occurred is often too late. Prevention of abuse requires that neighborhoods and communities be attentive to the problems of families in their midst and be willing to help when help is needed. It requires the active concern of educational, medical, mental health, law enforcement, and social service professionals, and the efforts of volunteers and private citizens.

The health and well-being of our children underlie the future of our Nation. The Congress, by Senate Joint Resolution 21, has recognized the need for public attention to prevention of child abuse and has requested me to proclaim April 1983 as National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

In the first couple of decades, the National Child Abuse Prevention Network ( used the month to heighten awareness of the problem of child abuse. More recently, the center uses April to focus on ways to prevent child abuse and neglect.

Experts from the center say, "Our own research shows that most Americans are engaged in prevention, they just don't know it."

The Children's Bureau, a branch of the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, publishes information about ACEs, a statistical measure of childhood adverse experiences. The information comes from a survey conducted by the CDC through state and local departments of health.

How do ACE reports help children?

The Children's Bureau said, "Research about the lifelong impact of ACEs underscores the urgency of prevention activities to protect children from these and other early traumas. When children do experience trauma, understanding the impact of ACEs can lead to more trauma-informed interventions that help to mitigate negative outcomes. Many communities are now exploring how a focus on reducing ACEs can help prevent child maltreatment, produce healthier outcomes for children and families, and save costs down the road."

Emmet County's ACEs scores are troubling to local officials because Emmet County's survey indicates 17.1 percent of adults have experienced four or more childhood adversities. This is the second-highest score in the state. It's not explained by poverty rate, rural isolation or demographic factors, because this score is two to three times higher than that of any of the surrounding counties, and higher than all the urban counties, too, except Pottawatamie County, which includes Council Bluffs.

Experts say adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events occurring before age 18. ACEs include all types of abuse and neglect as well as parental mental illness, substance use, divorce, incarceration, and domestic violence. A landmark study in the 1990s found a significant relationship between the number of ACEs a person experienced and a variety of negative outcomes in adulthood, including poor physical and mental health, substance abuse, and risky behaviors. The more ACEs experienced, the greater the risk for these outcomes. By definition, children in the child welfare system have suffered at least one ACE. Recent studies have shown that, in comparison to the general population, these children are far more likely to have experienced at least four ACEs (42 percent vs. 12.5 percent).

This connects to another Emmet County statistic: according to the State Data Center, Emmet County had 56 children in foster care in 2017. This was an increase from 30 children in 2016 and the highest number since at least 2006, the earliest year in which data was readily available at press time. None of the other 12 years showed Emmet County's rate reaching 50 foster children.

What can people in the community do to decrease the connection between a high number of ACEs and a continuing cycle of children who experience adverse life events?

According to the Bureau of Children, studies prove that communities connected through caring relationships have less crime, less homelessness, less substance abuse, increased school success, increased mental health and increased physical health.

According to the 2016 ACEs Report, "The simple actions we take to build caring connections with children, families and adults can improve community well-being. Take action by identifying your connection."

Examples of caring actions include reaching out to a neighbor, nonjudgmentally, listening to someone's story, spending time with a child whose parents may be stressed, and making a meal for a family.

Citizens can learn more about childhood trauma, its impact and effective response strategies at The website includes a resiliency toolkit. Those who feel they are experiencing the effects of a trauma response can seek services that help improve their well being by calling 2-1-1 for local resources.

Laura Porter, co-founder of the ACE Interface, said, "If you can weave the science through different sectors and get it in the hands of the general population, they will invent very wise actions."



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