I stumbled upon an article yesterday that I quickly read but then found myself thinking about again later. I wanted to share it with you because the topic hints at a much larger issue when it comes to child abuse prevention, and maybe even the situation with youth mental health. Here’s the link:
The message is simple. The article talks about how, in Kentucky, everyone who suspects child abuse or neglect has a duty to report it. Beyond that, though, Valerie Frost reminds us that even if there is no finding of abuse, our duty to the families in our community isn’t finished. There are still so many things we could be doing to help families be successful and help children live in a safe, supportive environment.
The suggestions for helping parents are good, but I want to talk a bit more about this idea when it comes to children. I’m going to try and do that without sounding like an old man, so I’ll resist the urge to talk about how things were “back in my day”. What we do know, however, is that children who are abused often have nowhere to turn. We encourage kids to tell without thinking about who they can tell. A kid being abused at home is not going to tell their parents. Kids being abused elsewhere whose single parent is working two jobs and struggling just to keep their family fed and sheltered aren’t going to tell their parents. So, who can they tell?
This is where the community comes in. Kids with strong connections to safe adults are less likely to be targeted and more likely to tell if they are. LGBTQ kids are less likely to struggle with suicidal ideation when they have adults who accept them as they are. Kids dealing with anxiety and depression have better outcomes when they have safe adults to talk through their emotions with, who can support them through difficult times. I’ve talked endlessly about the need for strong relationships with parents as the best preventive medicine we have for keeping children safe and supported. I’ve also talked, on my other site, about the importance of work-life balance and inclusivity when it comes to the workplace for parents. That’s what being the community that families need to succeed includes.
This is where my brain started to go when thinking about the role that the community plays in abuse prevention and youth mental health. It then proceeds to think about the lack of community that I’ve read about often as well. The lack of close friendships among adults. The political divisions that are sowed daily in the media and the state legislatures around the country. The lack of infrastructure for childcare, healthcare, and public education, and the things that prevent parents from accessing better jobs like public transit and remote work. We could also talk about the number of children growing up without parents due to our fascination with incarceration as opposed to providing addiction and mental health treatment.
If you look around at what is happening in the US right now, we’ve become a nation run by people who believe that we have no obligation to each other. Science says that is a path to destruction. That we do, in fact, need each other. We need our families, friends, and communities to step up and work together. We need children to have safe, close relationships with adults. Sadly we are creating a society where there are no safe adults for kids and then blaming everything else for their poor mental health situation. I’m not saying social media or the news has no impact on kids, but we used to live in a society where kids could be more resilient because there was a community that supported them.
Who supports them now?