Each April during National Child Abuse Prevention Month, our collective awareness is raised about the realities of child abuse and neglect. This campaign aims to drive conversations about child abuse in homes, schools, and the community. It is also an opportunity for education about the importance of child and family well-being
Child abuse prevention efforts are critical. To ensure their success, they must be driven by a trauma-informed approach.
Taking a trauma-informed approach to child abuse prevention is not difficult. It requires three simple steps: realizing the prevalence of trauma in the lives of children, recognizing that trauma events effect everyone differently, and putting this knowledge to practice with a trauma informed approach to child abuse prevention.
Prevalence of Trauma in the Lives of Children
It is important to begin with the assumption that, regardless of a person’s age, they are more likely than not to have a history of trauma in their lives.
Some examples of traumatic events in the lives of children can include, physical, emotional or sexual abuse; community or school violence; witnessing or experiencing domestic violence; experiencing a natural disaster; and experiencing the sudden death of a loved one among others.
No matter the type of abuse someone has lived through, we know thanks to research that these adverse experiences can have long-term emotional and physical effects.
Trauma Affects Everyone Differently
The second step in adopting a trauma-informed approach to child abuse prevention is recognizing that trauma impacts everyone, including children, differently.
When talking about sensitive topics like child abuse, one should be alert to how children are responding to the information being discussed. Children may express their discomfort in a number of different ways including acting out, appearing not to be paying attention, or becoming argumentative.
Implementing a Trauma-Informed Approach
I am often asked how to have personal safety conversations with children—how to implement a trauma-informed approach to child abuse prevention. I am often asked, “What should I say?” or “Should I wait until they bring it up?” There is often real fear attached to having these conversations.
The first thing I tell people is that personal safety conversations should not be a one-time event. They should be an on-going part of natural conversations with children and young people. The conversations should be as easy and casual as a discussion about the importance of brushing your teeth.
This April, as we observe Child Abuse Prevention Month, use this opportunity to make it the first of many conversations with the children in your life about a wide range of topics that affect their well-being.
By having regular conversations about a wide range of topics, you are creating an environment where children feel emotionally safe and valued.
Remember that the children may have already experienced trauma in their lives and be alert for signs of discomfort. If you are approachable, dependable, caring, and non-judgmental, you will make it much easier to tackle difficult subjects with young people such as child abuse prevention and personal safety.
To learn more about the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Office for Child and Youth Protection (OCYP) as well as the services and resources offered, please visit https://childyouthprotection.org/.
Leslie J. Davila, M.S., is the Director of the archdiocesan Office for Child and Youth Protection.
The Office for Child and Youth Protection’s purpose is to support the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s commitment to creating and maintaining safe environments for the children who attend its churches, schools, and youth programs. Additionally, OCYP provides compassionate and supportive assistance to individuals who have been the victims/survivors of child sexual abuse and their family members.
The Archdiocesan schools and parish religious education programs offer age-appropriate child abuse prevention and technology safety instruction annually. During the 2021-2022 academic year, over 100,000 students in our elementary, secondary and parish religious education program received Child Abuse prevention lessons. In addition, 6,228 adults received mandated reporter training.
OCYP takes its direction from The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability, and prevention of future acts of abuse
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