Child Abuse Is on the Decline - Now What?
An annual report recently released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed that the rates of child abuse and child neglect have declined for the third year in a row. Another study confirmed a continued decline in the rate of child sexual abuse, which is now roughly half what it was 20 years ago.*
Child abuse is on the decline. Obviously, we need to continue the downward trend and do even more to protect the millions of children who still need our help.
So how did we get here, and how do we keep it going?
For many, many years, the statistics on prevalence of child abuse were shocking. It seemed like nothing could help and child abuse was just a fact of life. But the alarming situation then became a rallying point for addressing the overwhelming incidence of child abuse in the U.S. and things began to change.
When people really understood that the numbers meant that children were suffering, they took notice.They decided it is simply not okay for children in our country to suffer any kind of child maltreatment -child sexual abuse, child physical abuse, or child neglect. The resulting sense of urgency demanded that greater attention be paid to these issues on the local, state, and national levels.
Child Advocacy Centers and countless other initiatives to address and prevent child abuse in all forms were implemented all over the country and made significant progress. Communities put programs in place, governments provided funding, and concerned people got involved.
And the needle began to move.
Overall, those affected by abuse now receive much better care and the prevalence of child abuse is unquestionably lower. In other words -- the things we are doing are working. But there is still much work to be done at every level of our communities.
The national reports and numerous additional points of data prove undeniably that decades of coordinated efforts and concentrated resources have brought down the rate of child abuse and neglect.
Why? Because of dedication of caring professionals who work in the prevention and response field.Because of the generosity of donors to make a difference in communities all over the country. Because of foresight in national, state, and local governments to provide funding for programs that strengthen families and protect the next generation.
So? We need to celebrate the accomplishments. We have developed programs that work. Children all over the country are being protected from unspeakable abuse and neglect.
And? Staying the course is more important than ever. We must increase our investment in these efforts and bring the numbers down even more. There are children who still need our help, programs that still need our support, and initiatives that still need our determination.
Everyone has a role to play in efforts to end child abuse. We have the responsibility to secure a healthy and prosperous future for our communities and our nation. Each of us can help in simple ways.
How? We can talk to our friends and colleagues. We can ask our local political, business, and religious leaders what they can do to decrease child abuse. We can support programs already in our local communities.
Most importantly, we can keep the things going that have proven to be effective.
And then do more.
Whatever it takes to protect every child and keep the numbers going down -- now.
* Finkelhor & Jones, 2006; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2009, 2010