A different approach to preventing child abuse

(BPT) – Research shows that child abuse and neglect affects households across the country, and a majority of Americans view it as a public health problem and acknowledge that it is an issue in their community. In fact, a recent national survey by Research!America shows that 44 percent of non-Hispanic whites, 42 percent of Hispanics and 40 percent of African-Americans say they know someone who has experienced child abuse and neglect.

For decades, advocates assumed that simply raising awareness of the plight of children who experienced abuse and educating the public on signs of child abuse and neglect was enough to motivate people to prevent it. However, in many areas, there has been no corresponding shift in policy, significant investment in prevention, or reduction in child abuse rates.

One state is taking a different approach. Recent initiatives in Colorado that shift the conversation show great promise, and prove that raising awareness of how to strengthen families is crucial to addressing child abuse and neglect.

In 2013, the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) surveyed residents and found that more than half of Coloradans had personally encountered a child they suspected was a victim of abuse or neglect. Although survey respondents said they knew the signs of child abuse and neglect and were very likely to report a litany of typical abuse and neglect situations, they were actually underreporting their concerns.

In fact, just 10 percent of reports of child abuse and neglect in Colorado were coming from the general public — well below the national average. By contrast, approximately 75 percent of child abuse and neglect reports in Colorado were coming from mandatory reporters (those in professions that require the reporting of suspected abuse, such as doctors, teachers and counselors).

In 2015, CDHS launched a multiyear campaign to engage all Coloradans in the prevention of child abuse. The CO4KIDS campaign began with the launch of the new Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline, 1-844-CO-4-KIDS (1-844-264-5437), that makes it easy for residents to report concerns of abuse and neglect. It has since been highly effective in bringing about a welcomed shift in the public’s perception that communities and individuals have a shared responsibility to help protect Colorado children.

Since the launch of the campaign, Colorado has experienced a dramatic increase in engagement among friends, neighbors and community members, with 44 percent of calls reporting child abuse concerns in 2017 coming from the general public or anonymous people. Colorado has also seen growth in the total number of calls as a result of the campaign, with a 63 percent increase in calls from 2014 to a record-breaking 211,554 in 2017.

In addition to the hotline, Colorado launched www.co4kids.org, a website highlighting the various roles people play along a continuum of ending child abuse, including prevention, education, reporting, volunteering, fostering and adopting.

“We built an evidence-based public awareness campaign; one that views child abuse as a public health problem and provides solution-based messages that inspire the public to get involved,” said Katie Facchinello, communications manager for the CDHS Office of Children, Youth and Families. “Child welfare and government agencies are a key part of the solution, but preventing child abuse and neglect, and helping those children who have experienced maltreatment, requires a community solution.”

In addition to continuing to promote reporting, the campaign also advances other Colorado initiatives aimed at strengthening families, preventing child fatalities, recruiting foster parents and engaging communities in the unmet needs of children involved in the child welfare system.

“Our hope is that everyone — not just Coloradans — will begin to play a larger role in strengthening families and preventing child abuse,” continued Facchinello. “Because Colorado has proven that it does, indeed, take a village.”