Initiatives that are both Practical and Visionary are always appealing. Throw in an emphasis on the Positive, rather than the negative side of an issue and such an initiative becomes irresistible. The Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) has produced a guide that pre-schools can use to strengthen families to prevent child abuse and neglect. But their work is likely to benefit all families because of the approach they take: They support the development of broadly beneficial “Protective factors” in families, instead of identifying and treating high-risk or “problem” families.
Many thanks to Ken Sanders, Director/Center on Fathering at El Paso County, for bringing the CSSP and this resource to my attention. I encourage you to read and download the full “Strengthening Families” guidebook here. Here are a few excerpts (italics are my added emphasis):
On Why they Focus on Early Childhood Education entities as the “delivery” entities:
- The uniquely close relationship between caregiver/teacher and parents of very young children, the daily opportunities for observation and learning with parents, the relationship between early childhood programs and other resources for parents of young children, and the fact that parents interact with these programs as “empowered consumers” rather than as clients or recipients of a service make this focus a promising universal strategy.
- By recent estimates, nearly 60 percent of all children under age six are in care out of their homes for at least part of the day. For children birth to age three, the percentage is even higher: 75 percent. This includes care in for-profit and non-profit day care centers, state-sponsored preschool educa- tion, church-based programs, and Head Start programs. While early care and education doesn’t reach all families with young children, it is the only system that reaches a large proportion of young children and their parents on a daily basis
- In contrast to many human service settings where families under stress go to receive help, early care and education centers provide an opportunity for families to access support in a non-stigmatizing context.
- Early care and education programs are among the few human services systems receiving attention— and new resources—from all levels of government, as well as the private sector.
On Taking a Positive Approach
- It begins with shifting the focus of child abuse and neglect prevention efforts from family risks and deficits to family strengths and resiliency. The reluctance of families to participate in programs that identify them as “at risk” is well documented and amounts to a significant barrier in interventions designed to reduce abuse and neglect.
- An early scan of existing research revealed several protective factors linked to a lower incidence of child abuse and neglect.
- Protective factors related to families include:
- Parental resilience
- An array of social connections
- Adequate knowledge of parenting and child development
- Concrete support in times of need, including access to necessary services, such as mental health
- The protective factor related to children is: Healthy social and emotional development
- The 7 Strategies that the Guidebook helps schools implement (and assess!)
- Facilitate friendships and mutual support
- Strengthen parenting
- Respond to family crises
- Link families to services and opportunities
- Facilitate children’s social and emotional development
- Observe and respond to early warning signs of child abuse or neglect
- Value and support parents
Some Additional Good News
Contrary to popular perception:
- While studies show that approximately 70 percent of maltreating parents were abused and/or neglected by their own parents during childhood, they also demonstrate that the majority (approximately 70 percent) of parents who were maltreated as children do not maltreat their own offspring (Egeland et. al. 2002; Rogosch et. al. 1995; Steele 1997).
- What best explains why these parents are able to break what is evidently a very powerful tendency toward the intergenerational transmission of abuse and neglect? The single factor most commonly identified in the child abuse and neglect prevention literature is development of empathy for the self and others through caring relationships with friends, intimate partners, family members, or professional therapists or counselors (Steele 1997; Higgins 1994).
The CSSP Strengthening Families early childhood initiative seems like an extremely well-conceived and carefully researched program that deserves all our support. Be one of the people making the country better by sharing it with early childhood schools and educators you know!