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Child sexual abuse is preventable; Biology is not destiny

Child sexual abuse is preventable; Biology is not destiny

By: Sharon Hirsch, Prevent Child Abuse NC President & CEO Posted: November 18, 2019 Child sexual abuse IS preventable and biology is not destiny. Our collective failure to focus research, policy and programs on preventing child sexual abuse is damaging children’s developing brains and bodies and is costing all of us an enormous amount of money downstream in our criminal justice, health care and other systems. At PCANC we focus on primary prevention by building Protective Factors to increase the capacity of parents, agency professionals and communities to support and strengthen families to prevent abuse from ever happening. In that context, our work has largely focused on four of the five protective factors: knowledge of parenting and child development, parental resilience, social connections and concrete supports in times of need. To truly focus upstream to prevent child sexual abuse, we, collectively, must focus much more attention – in research, policy and practice – and therefore money – on building the social and emotional competence of our children. I challenge you to think strategically about the role you can play to do just that. Building the social and emotional competence of our children must be built on a foundation of good data. Our systems for reporting and tracking child abuse and neglect across Division of Social Services, Child Advocacy Centers, and law enforcement need to be improved so that we know more about the true scope of child sexual abuse in NC. Do we know the average ages of predators? Do we know the average age of child sexual abuse victims? Do we know the true prevalence of child sexual abuse in NC or are we relying on national statistics? Are we looking at data through a racial equity lens? Our policy makers will demand data, and rightly so. We need the data to target and measure interventions and prevention programs. That means we must invest in data systems. That is challenge number one. Building the social and emotional competence of our youth must begin with our youngest children. We know that if children learn early about healthy relationships and empathy for others, their brains will be wired for healthy relationships as they grow through adolescents and adulthood. This can have a win-win impact of children growing up to resist predators and to prevent the development of predators. To do this in NC, we have to raise awareness about both child sexual abuse and the research on what works to prevent it. Social norms will have to change to support investments in programs that focus on healthy relationship skills – including healthy sexual relationships. Dr. Letourneau reminded us that the evidence base is not as strong for child sexual abuse programming as it is for other prevention programs. We need NC research institutions in public health, social work and psychiatry to focus on creating interventions and programs targeted to preventing child sexual abuse – and we need the philanthropic community to support pilots and research. That is challenge number two. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not focus on our individual responsibilities to be a connection for the children in our communities. All the research on this is clear – children who have stable, safe, nurturing relationships in their lives with both their parents and within caring adults in their communities, build social and emotional skills. Not only that, but their community looks out for them and is better able to identify signs of potential grooming or abuse. That is challenge number three. We all have a role – as individuals, as researchers, as parents, as funders, as policy makers and as shapers. On October 19, a statewide learning convening was held on child sexual abuse prevention. Presenters included: Elizabeth J. Letourneau, Professor, Department of Mental Health, Director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of child Sexual Abuse at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, Lisa Amaya Jackson, MD, MPH, Department of psychiatry, Duke University School of Medicine, UCLA-Duke National Center for Childhood Traumatic Stress and Center for child & Family Health and NC Child Treatment Program Sherika Hill, PhD, MHA, Research and Policy Liaison, Director’s office, UNC Chapel Hill, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke School of Medicine The event was co-convened by Prevent Child Abuse NC (PCANC), the Children’s Advocacy Centers of NC, The Redwoods Group, NC Coalition Against Sexual Assault, NC Child, NC Alliance of YMCAs and the YMCA of the Triangle. Your final challenge is to watch the video above from the statewide learning event and take the time to think strategically about the role you and your organization can play in building a system to prevent child sexual abuse – and engage with us at PCANC and the other organizations involved in planning the statewide learning event on child sexual abuse prevention. Presentation 1 by Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Presentation 2 by Dr. Lisa Amaya-Jackson, Duke Medical Center and Center for Child and Family Health. Presentation 3 by Dr. Sherika Hill, Duke University and Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. Presentation 4 by Sharon Hirsch, Prevent Child Abuse NC President & CEO Please contact Sharon Hirsch at shirsch@preventchildabusenc.org with questions.
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7 Simple Ways to Show Support During Child Abuse Prevention Month

By: Kristie Demers, Prevent Child Abuse NC Communications Coordinator Posted: March 2018 As I’m sure you already know, April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. It is a time to honor the children we are raising today by creating a movement that will build safe, stable, nurturing homes and communities in North Carolina for years to come.   It is a time to celebrate the great childhoods all children deserve. It is a time to recognize where we have been, where we want to go, and what it will take to get there. It is a time to ask yourself, “What am I doing to support children and families in North Carolina?” It is a time to create your plan of action! As the Communications Coordinator for Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina, I am on the road meeting people from different sectors on a regular basis. And although the people I’m meeting range from government agencies to restaurant management to community groups to grade-school children, I often get asked the same question, “How can I help prevent child abuse?” The answer is simple: You don’t have to work directly with children and families to make a difference (but of course we applaud those who do that work throughout the year!). In fact, you just sitting there being you, taking the time out of your day to read this is exactly what we need. We need passionate people who want to promote the importance of investing in prevention efforts! We need you! That’s why we challenge you to do a little more and complete as many tasks on our list below as you can! Seven simple ways to show support during Child Abuse Prevention Month: 1. Raise Awareness on Social Media Start by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn so you can stay educated, spread awareness, and learn more about prevention efforts across the state. Share and retweet our posts to educate your networks about prevention! Want to take your social advocacy to the next level? Visit our Social Media Toolkit for more tips and ways to raise awareness using social media! 2. Plant a Pinwheel Home Kit Plant a pinwheel garden in your own front yard! The Pinwheel Home Kit is affordable at $33 ($23 for Prevention Network Members) and includes 24 pinwheels and a yard sign. The pinwheels are versatile and can be used in many different spaces, for example, I’ll be planting my pinwheels in flower pots on my patio at my apartment! Order your Pinwheel Materials. And of course, share a photo of your pinwheel garden using the hashtags #PassThePinwheel and #GreatChildhoods. 3. Wear Blue Wear blue on Friday, April 7 for Wear Blue Day, take a selfie, and share on your social media channels with the hashtags #PassthePinwheel & #GreatChildhoods. One of our Implementation Support Specialists said she just might dust off an as-tacky-as-it-sounds old blue prom dress for a special social media photo-opp! But don’t worry; you can wear a blue button-up shirt, blouse, t-shirt, dress, blue jeans, tie or other accessories if you don’t have any blue vintage prom attire lying around. 4. Attend Local Child Abuse Prevention Month Events You can help prevent child abuse by attending a press conference to show solidarity, volunteering to plant pinwheels with local organizations, running a 5k, eating ramen noodles (yes, you read that right), or taking your kids to the park! Round up your family, friends, or coworkers and join us at any of the following events: Click the link in each for more details. *UPDATE as of May 1, 2018: These events are now over March 31, 10:00AM-11:00AM – Meck4Kids Press Conference to Kick-Off Child Abuse Prevention Month. Join us outside the Mecklenburg County Courthouse in Charlotte, NC. April 4, 1:30PM -3:00PM – Pinwheels in Parks kick-off in Nash Square Downtown Raleigh – presented in partnership by Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department. Register to volunteer at one of four other park locations at 2:30pm. April 4, 11:30AM-9:30PM – Torii Noodle Bar’s 2nd Annual $1 Ramen Noodle Day. We knew you would be hungry after all the pinwheels you plant this April! So head to Torii Noodle Bar by Kanki in Raleigh, NC for $1 bowls of ramen (regular $12.95). Dine-in only. One per customer. All proceeds support PCANC. April 8, 8:00AM-12:00PM – Run the River 5k – benefiting CARE at The John 3:16 Center. 5k held at the Roanoke Canal Museum and Trail in Roanoke Rapids, NC. April 9, 2:00PM-3:00PM – American Tobacco Campus pinwheel garden sponsored by Capitol Broadcasting Company (CBC). Join us in planting 2,000 pinwheels in Durham, NC. April 15, 10:00AM-12:00PM – Family Fun Day at Pullen Park hosted by Wake County Human Services in partnership with Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department. April 20, 12:00PM-1:00PM – WRAL pinwheel garden sponsored by CBC. Join us in planting 2,000 pinwheels at the WRAL / Fox50 campus in Raleigh, NC. April 30, 12:00PM-6:00PM – Pinwheels for Prevention Family Fun Day hosted by the Exchange Family Center at Wheels Fun Park in Durham, NC. 5. Double Your Donation! Thanks to the ChildTrust Foundation, all donations will be matched up to $75,000 through June 30, 2017. With your donation, you can help us build safe, stable, nurturing homes and communities where children can thrive! 6. Start a Fundraising Campaign Start a campaign! It’s quick and easy to create your own fundraising page. By becoming a fundraiser you can create your own account, join or start a team, and get others involved! Pledge your birthday, challenge your friends or coworkers to compete with you, or encourage donations to celebrate a parent or guardian that had an impact on you. 7. Purchase a Kids First License Plate Raise awareness on the roads with a Kids First specialty license plate. When you purchase a Kids First specialty license plate, $15 of the plate fee is returned to local communities in the form of grants to organizations implementing child abuse and neglect prevention programs. Invite us to speak to your group (civic, faith group, school, government agency, nonprofit) about strategies that strengthen families and prevent child abuse and neglect. Contact me at kdemers@preventchildabusenc.org or 919-829-8009 ext. 619. THANK YOU for your support and spreading awareness about the importance of investing in the great childhoods all children deserve during Child Abuse Prevention…

A letter from our immediate past board chair

A letter from our immediate past board chair

By: Jes Averhart, Prevent Child Abuse NC Immediate Past Board Chair Date Posted: September 27, 2019 In many ways fate conspires with action to lead you into work that is both unexpected and meaningful. I found myself at this intersection in 2013 when I was invited to serve on the board of Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina (PCANC). As the daughter of a loving and nurturing single mom and the mother of a teenage son (who is adored), the notion of strong, informed parenting struck me as a ‘no brainer’; and before my work with PCANC, I would have considered myself a champion of parenting and fiercely protective of kids. If I’m to be honest however, I was woefully uninformed and critical of parents who ‘didn’t have it together.’ The truth was, I hadn’t considered the gaps and the inherent obstacles and barriers that exist, preventing many families from flourishing into safe and healthy units. Oh, how times have changed! In my first year of this work, I decided to own my blind spots, listen, learn and ask questions. I learned from our diverse board and expert staff that this work is not just a notion…but the place where real change occurs. PCANC puts proven supports in place for real North Carolina families to grow, make better choices and become more connected – where children are more likely to grow up healthier and ready to reach their fullest potential. YES!! Now that’s good work! That is my story and my evolution. What is yours? For such a time as this…we hear this phrasing a lot. The context, which is a Biblical reference to the Book of Esther, is actually a challenge or rebuke, not an inspiring pep talk. Queen Esther was being reminded that she was set apart to do God’s work, not to get caught up in her title and position as queen. The same can be said for each of us today, as members of a broader community. It’s not enough to say you’re a concerned citizen and pontificate over dinner about the ‘long way we have to go’ to turn things around. I believe we have been set apart for a greater purpose: to meaningfully engage with our children and their families, to keep a watchful eye on our community and speak up around issues of abuse and neglect. To help amplify this calling, PCANC is rolling out a statewide social norm campaign called “Connections Matter,” a game changer for North Carolina. This campaign will demystify and remove the stigma around parental supports and community involvement, because we KNOW that connections DO matter. As part of this campaign, you will learn to increase the Five Protective Factors in your family and community – and become equipped, in partnership with PCANC, to help move North Carolina forward. Take just a second to consider how we are all connected through varying touch points, be it schools, parks and recreation, the YMCA, pediatricians, fire and law enforcement, places of worship, and even your local grocery store. No longer can we be ‘eyes wide shut’ on the topic of our children. They need us to see them and their families need our support and encouragement in such a time as this. I encourage you to review our latest annual report and really consider the work that is taking place at Prevent Child Abuse NC. I think you’ll find it inspired, thoughtful and relevant. As you walk alongside this work, keep an eye out for policy implications, engage with us during Child Abuse Prevention Month (CAPM) in April by planting a Pinwheel Garden and consider a gift to further the mission. It all matters at the end of the day and we’ll all be able to celebrate the wins together! On behalf of our children and families across the state, let’s do this…TOGETHER! In deep gratitude, Jes Averhart Immediate Past Chair, Board of Directors Prevent Child…

A message from Prevent Child Abuse NC on child separations at the US border

A message from Prevent Child Abuse NC on child separations at the US border

By: Sharon Hirsch, Prevent Child Abuse NC President & CEO Posted: September 13, 2019 This message was sent to the NC congressional delegation, urging them to take action to prevent children from being separated from their parents at the border and to keep the well being of children paramount when parents are detained for immigration violations at the border and in their communities. Neuroscience makes it clear that childhood experiences lay the foundation for the quality of brain development, health and prosperity into adulthood.  Children who grow up in safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments have the best opportunity to become educated, productive, healthy and engaged citizens into adulthood. The most important relationships children have are with their parents.  When parent-child attachment is disrupted, it is extremely traumatic, having a negative impact on brain development.  The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, conducted more than 20 years ago by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente, made it clear that separation from parents – by divorce, parental incarceration, death, foster care or any other reason – is one of the most traumatic experiences a child can endure. It’s not only challenging emotionally, it creates Toxic Stress which changes the way the child’s brain develops and negatively impacts the immune system. Children who experience trauma hyper-develop their fight, freeze or flight instincts and under-develop the executive functioning portion of their brains necessary for learning, decision-making and relationship building. We can see this clearly in brain scans of children who have experienced this type of trauma compared to those who have not. The legacy of inadequate childhood attachment poses a considerable burden for the individuals themselves, for society, and for public services. It is a key factor in intergenerational parenting difficulties, and predisposes children to substance abuse, temper problems, homelessness, promiscuity, early pregnancy, and criminality.  People who have experienced such extreme trauma are more likely to have behavior problems in school, become depressed, attempt suicide, develop diseases like heart disease and lung cancer, and are more likely to have difficulty in relationships. In addition, the downstream consequences of toxic stress costs ALL of us an enormous amount of money – in NC alone, we spend $2 billion every year in health, social services, criminal justice, remedial education and lost worker productivity as a result of child abuse and neglect.  This is preventable when we invest in making sure all children grow up in safe, stable, nurturing environments.  It’s good policy, it’s good medicine, and it is good for our wallets. We know more than ever before about what helps children and adults overcome tough times. It’s all about the healing power of relationships. Science has revealed that relationships help build healthy brains, families and communities. We must assure that children who come into custody of our government are cared for with an understanding of this science. This is why we are urging you to do everything in your power to take action to prevent children from being separated from their parents at the border and to keep the well being of children paramount when parents are detained for immigration violations at the border and in their communities. If children have to be separated from families, the policy priority must be placed on the well-being of children and assuring the conditions in which they are detained are safe, nurturing and staffed by personnel who use trauma-informed practice to care for the children in their custody. We are not expert in immigration policy, but we are leading NC in protecting all children from emotional, physical and sexual abuse within our communities and families. We urge you to take action to ensure children’s well being is the top priority when their parents are detained, that trauma-informed practice be required in facilities that house children separated from their parents and that every effort is made to prevent children from being separated from their families. We are ready to provide guidance and support as you work to achieve this…

Explore Our New Website Design and Features

Explore Our New Website Design and Features

We are thrilled to announce the launch of our new website! After 10+ months of hard work through one of our busiest years, we’re pleased to officially share the new features of our freshly-designed website, with help from our friends at Big Boom Design.

Creating a Child Welfare System from Scratch: Lessons for Uzbekistan

Creating a Child Welfare System from Scratch: Lessons for Uzbekistan

By: Sharon Hirsch, Prevent Child Abuse NC President & CEO  Date Posted: June 13, 2019I recently spoke to a delegation from Uzbekistan who came to North Carolina to talk about creating a child welfare system for their country. My role was to share my perspective on ways to design a child welfare system from the start with a focus on prevention. It was an exciting opportunity to think about designing a system that begins with the end in mind and is based on the latest science about what works. All systems are designed to get the results they achieve. I encouraged them to NOT replicate our system.Our system has focused so narrowly on protection – we call it “child protective services” – that it has done unintentional harm by removing so many children from their parents and placed them in foster care or group homes. Removing a child from their parents is one of the most traumatic adverse childhood experiences – and without buffering, can result in serious physical and mental health problems in adulthood that impact educational attainment and workplace productivity. Yet, our system in the U.S. often emphasizes removing children from their parents instead of supporting, educating and building the capabilities of parents.A recent study by Alia Innovations and Ecotone on the social return on investment in foster care came to a stunning conclusion: for every $1 invested in one year of foster care, the return on investment was -$3.64. For a more typical scenario with a child in foster care for 4 years, the return was -$9.55. So, in addition to the costs of case workers, foster placements and therapeutic interventions, the costs to the child and to the public in reduced well-being are terrible. We could do much better with a focus on the growing knowledge of brain development, adverse childhood experiences and evidence-based programs.So, what did I recommend?I recommended designing a system that creates safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for children by building Protective Factors. Dr. Jack Shonkoff at the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University recommends three design principles for an effective system to support positive outcomes for children and families:Build responsive relationshipsReduce sources of stressStrengthen core life skillsThese design principles are consistent with the Protective Factors. I also focused on the interconnected nature of systems design that focuses not only on programs and services for families, but policy and public engagement. Families live in communities, so building a sense of community and support for each other is critical to building the safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments that families need for children to grow up healthy, safe and thriving. Policies that support and strengthen families’ ability to be economically secure are also key. My top recommendations were:Educate the public about investing in early childhood based on the science of neurobiology and ACES.Create a multi-tiered universal home visiting system and a continuum of parenting education supports.Provide access to quality early childhood education for children – and knowledge of child development should be taught in high school so that parents have a base of understanding.Build systems for concrete supports in times of need: affordable housing, living wage jobs, paid family leave, transportation, access to services in crisis situations such as diapers, food and shelter. This is about addressing some of the adverse community conditions and environments in which families live, particularly poverty.Invest in income supports for parents – in this country things like Paid Family Leave and the Earned Income Tax Credit are strategies that are recommended by the CDC to reduce neglect, which is much more prevalent than abuse.Be intentional about creating opportunities for families and children to build connections – social connections, connections to resources and connections to formal support systems. Everyday connections and relationships are more important than we ever believed. Science now tells us that relationships have the power to shape our brains. Relationships help us to learn better, work better, parent better. When we experience tough times, they help us heal.  With each connection, we develop a stronger, healthier community. Helping parents, community leaders and policy makers understand the power of relationships and connections for families is a key strategy to build a strong system of support for families.What do you think? Are these the right investments? Would you recommend anything else? I’d love to hear from you!…

Four Things to Expect from the #PCANCSummit

Here at Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina, we’re thrilled to be a co-presenter with NC Department of Health and Human Services to host our biennial Learning and Leadership Summit: Connections Matter for Prevention in Raleigh, NC.

Some of our top reasons to attend the #PCANCSummit include: over 350 attendees, 40 educational breakout sessions, 19 exhibitors, valuable networking, and the chance to hear from nationally recognized speakers. Whether you’ve already bought your tickets or are still trying to decide if you should register, we made a list of the four things to expect from the #PCANCSummit on March 5-6, 2019 at the McKimmon Conference and Training Center.

Lordy, Prevent Child Abuse NC is 40!

Lordy, Prevent Child Abuse NC is 40!

January 23, 1979 is a big day in our history.

It’s the day the North Carolina Chapter of the National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse was established. In the late 1970’s the primary goal was to raise awareness about the fact that child abuse and neglect existed – can you imagine?

Fast forward to 2019 and that organization, now Prevent Child Abuse NC (PCANC), is investing upstream in strategies that are proven to strengthen families and help keep children safe.

But what exactly is our strategy? Two words: Capacity building.