Something about children.

In 2016 the Centers for Disease Control released a technical package/toolkit for preventing child abuse and neglect. If you missed that bit of news, back in 2016, as I did, it’s probably because 2016 was, in the lightest and most polite description, a crazy year.

I’ll go on a limb here and suggest something that may seem grossly overstated — and perhaps it is, but I’ll offer it anyway: The cure to almost every societal ill we’re struggling with in the U.S. today, in 2022, is in the pages of that CDC toolkit. The cure is still as potent today as when the report was released, six years ago. It’s not too late.

The focus of the report is not children; it’s parents. Helping parents helps children. It is that simple, and that complex.

Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect
Strengthen economic supports to familiesStrengthening household financial security
Family-friendly work policies
Change social norms to support parents and positive parentingPublic engagement and education campaigns
Legislative approaches to reduce corporal punishment
Provide quality care and education early in lifePreschool enrichment with family engagement Improved quality of child care through licensing and accreditation
Enhance parenting skills to promote healthy child developmentEarly childhood home visitation
Parenting skill and family relationship approaches
Intervene to lessen harms and prevent future riskEnhanced primary care
Behavioral parent training programs
Treatment to lessen harms of abuse and neglect exposure Treatment to prevent problem behavior and later involvement in violence

Note: Intervention is the last strategy of the five. Intervention should be last, not first, when thinking about how to protect children.

Looking at the AECF Kids Count data, the local (Memphis/Shelby County) 10-year trendline of child abuse and neglect reports shows no meaningful progress (you can look at the dataset here). Despite what seems an unending stream of all the right words about how children are our future, and despite growing awareness of the long-term harm from adverse childhood experiences, we continue to fall far short when it comes to the actual practice of helping children thrive. In metaphorical terms, we rely on fillings and implants instead of brushing and flossing our teeth.

And things will likely get worse in coming months, not better. Why? Because parenting and parental “rights” are the latest f-ed-up political fight.

One clear example of that (utterly stupid and unhelpful) fight is in this pair of columns from The Daily Memphian:

“A pliable governor; a shameful legislature” (Dan Conaway, writing in his regular weekly column)

“Opinion: In defense of parents” (Daniel Chatham, writing in direct response to Conaway’s column)

This verbal sparring is just one example; you won’t have to look hard to find others. While the direct impetus at the moment might be COVID-related school policies, this fight is older and uglier, and it’s tearing our social fabric to shreds.

But back to the top, to the only point worth trying to make here: If the idea of protecting children tugs at your heart, if you wince at the very idea of harming children in any way, then please consider reading the full CDC toolkit and asking yourself what you can do, in your ordinary daily life, to be part of the solution.

Example: Do you make, or influence, policies in your workplace? Terrific; now ask the staff who are parents how those policies are and aren’t helping them. Ask without judging. Ask, and then just listen. Think about how you can instead of how you can’t if parents suggest or ask for things that seem unrealistic.

More to come on this one, though tomorrow I think I’m going to pick up the thread on creativity and cooking. See you then?