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6 Protective Factors That Can Help to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect

Smiling young girl

In honor of National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, we are cross posting this article with our colleagues at the APA Division 27 Community Psychology Practice blog.

By Gina Cardazone, MA  (University of Hawai`i, Mānoa – APA Division 27 Member)

Children have the ability to thrive even in the face of the most difficult circumstances.

The presence of supportive adults is one of the most important factors that can help children cope with harsh circumstances. Unfortunately, in most cases of child maltreatment, the traumatic experiences of abuse or neglect are happening due to the actions (or inactions) of parents. These are very people whose support children need most to overcome difficulties.

Most parents who abuse or neglect their children are not the kinds of one-dimensional villains that exist in popular media images. While there are cases of real life cruelty that rival the most horrific movies, the vast majority of maltreatment in the U.S. occurs in the form of neglect. Often, the parents who expose their children to harm are themselves under a great deal of stress.

Increasingly, child maltreatment prevention programs are adopting strengths-based approaches that not only decrease the likelihood that abuse or neglect will occur, but also encourage healthy development.

Here in Hawaii, I’m working with the Hawaii Children’s Trust Fund and Joyful Heart Foundation on their One Strong ‘Ohana (OSO) campaign. The One Strong ‘Ohana campaign is focused on six protective factors that can help to promote positive parenting and prevent child maltreatment.

  1. Social connections

  2. Nurturing and attachment

  3. Knowledge of parenting and child development

  4. Parental resilience

  5. Social and emotional competence of children

  6. Concrete supports for parents

Here’s a video they created highlighting the first protective factor. Parents who have a strong support system are less likely to abuse or neglect their children.

A key aspect of this campaign is that it is not only targeted at parents that may be at risk for maltreatment. Rather, it is meant to spread awareness that there are things that everyone can do that can decrease the likelihood that child maltreatment will occur. On their website, OSO offers 10 tips for how anyone can support parents and caregivers. These include things that anyone can do, such as offering to pick up groceries or watch the kids for a couple of hours, or even simply letting parents know you are there for them. They may seem like small acts, but when added up, these actions can make a huge difference for an overwhelmed parent.

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