Child Abuse Prevention: Finding Support
by Ann Gaasch, FamilyWise CEO
For many families, spring is the time to get our bikes ready. Bikes symbolize many things. For the youngest of us, they are fun, a chance to be outdoors and see the world with your parents. After the training wheels and a supportive adult holding them up, kids learn to ride on their own, creating a rush of independence and freedom. For adults, bikes might mean a commitment to wellness and fitness, and a chance to get around with less impact on the environment.
One part of the bike we don’t often think about are the spokes. Maybe you used to decorate them with ribbon or playing cards—but spokes are more than ornamental. They transfer the weight from wheel hub to the rim. They hold the rim so it does not collapse. If spokes on your wheel break, your bike stops working.
Just like the wheels on a bike, families need support to function and thrive. Parenting is hard under the best of circumstances. You need someone to call when your babysitter is sick, someone who will make you laugh over spilled milk, someone your child can talk to who you trust to keep them safe—to name just a few.
Turn your attention to those spokes: who fills those needs for you? Hopefully, there are several people you can call on for each type of support. That’s important because the people who fill those needs change over time—they might move away or have a family situation of their own. You don’t want your wheel to collapse if you lose a source of support.
But what if you do rely on just a few people, or you have a situation no one in your circle can help with? It happens to all of us, and it can be hard to find new people for your support team. Here are some things to try:
- Look to the people you know. It can be hard to ask for help, but it’s important to remember that people won’t know what you need unless you ask. Rather than being a burden, being asked makes people feel good, because they genuinely care and want to support you.
- Take a risk and work to meet new people. Find a group that addresses your needs. Talk to the person standing next to you at your child’s game or at the school’s open house.
- Think about those people you help. How can you invite them to return that support?
Now that we’ve tuned up your bike of support, let’s turn our attention to the ways we support other parents. How can we be strong spokes in our community? Here are some ideas:
- Educate yourself and others about child abuse and how to prevent it. Child abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It often occurs when parents face stressful conditions like poverty or mental health and substance use issues. Abuse and neglect are often part of intergenerational cycles of family violence, but when parents have access to knowledge and tools, they can disrupt those cycles. Learn more by listening to the Remembering Resilience podcast: https://rememberingresilience.home.blog/
- Address factors that contribute to child abuse, like homelessness and hunger. When parents face the stress of making ends meet every day, they are more at risk of abusing or neglecting their children. You can help prevent child abuse and neglect by supporting a local Crisis Nursery, food shelf, or an organization working to address homelessness.
- Support a parent or child in your life. Parenting is hard, especially in a pandemic. With less time to rest and recharge, parents are at greater risk of abusing and neglecting their children. You can help give a parent a break: read a story (over Zoom) to a child, drop off a home-cooked meal, or simply send an encouraging text. Or take it further by supporting a parent or child through a mentorship program.
- Be an advocate for children and families. Public policies and systems play a large role in child abuse prevention. Become an advocate by writing a letter to a local newspaper or by connecting with policy makers to make a difference for families in your community.
- Connect with FamilyWise. Visit our website to sign a commitment to prevent child abuse and plant a pinwheel to raise awareness at familywiseservices.org.