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NEWS Improving and Protecting the Health, Well-Being
and Self-Reliance of All Montanans.

March 29, 2013
Contact:  Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936
              Chuck Council, Communications Specialist, DPHHS, (406) 444-4391

Help prevent child abuse and neglect; strengthen families

Sarah Corbally
Child and Family Services Division Administrator
Department of Public Health and Human Services

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) has seen recent significant growth in the number of reports of child maltreatment received by the Centralized Intake Child Abuse Hotline.  The number of children placed in foster care has also increased to over 2,000.  Every day, DPHHS staff work tirelessly to carry out the mission of keeping children safe and families strong.  However, responding after a report is received is not enough.  The work of preventing child abuse requires the efforts of all Montanans, and it starts long before a call is made to the Child Abuse Hotline.

The 2011 Legislature requested an interim study of ways to reduce childhood trauma and its long-term effect on children. The report emphasizes research that the human brain, which grows to 85% of its adult size by the time a child is 3 years old, is profoundly shaped by the child's experiences during those years, particularly by the safety, stability, and nurturing that the child's primary caregivers do or do not provide. It stressed findings that unaddressed childhood trauma affects a child's behaviors later in life and can lead to problems such as poor physical health, addiction, and mental illness.

The report also noted these problems can be prevented through early intervention, especially through prenatal care, parent education, family support, and other efforts to prevent or mitigate childhood trauma. 

Future generations are counting on us to find ways to help strengthen our families and communities.  We can do this by helping to build protective factors in Montana families.  There are six protective factors that can help families become self-sufficient and raise healthy, happy, and successful children:

  • First, every parent must understand the importance of nurturing and attachment.  The essential need for every young child to have a consistent and caring relationship with a parent cannot be overstated or underestimated. 
  • Every family must have the opportunity to learn about basic child development.  Children do not come with instructions, but they probably should! 
  • Parents need to develop resilience to allow them to parent through the times of stress, and understand that all families have times of stress. This resilience can come from many sources, but it requires that families have the ability and knowledge needed to access outside resources and services in the community when that time comes – without stigma.  We all need help sometimes! 
  • Families need social connections.  As we think about the little things that each of us can do to prevent child abuse, think about making connections to families in your community that might not have them.  Knowing the families in your neighborhood, and being a positive connection and support for those families with young children, has never been more important. 
  • All families need solid support.  In our communities and our state, we must support those agencies and providers who work tirelessly to ensure that all families have access to food, clothing, housing, and some form of transportation.  More often than not, it is Montana’s children who lack access to these basic supports. 
  • Last, the importance of social and emotional competence in children must be understood and promoted by each of us. The skills that our children need to be successful in their careers are built in day care centers, schools, and on playgrounds and ball fields. There is no way to make up for lost opportunities in childhood.

As a parent, I know that it is not enough to provide my own children with the building blocks for a successful future. I know that their success, and the success of the generations to come, depends on how we treat all children. I hope that during Child Abuse Prevention Month, each of us will find a way to strengthen the protective factors of families in our Montana community. 

Montana children need a safe, stable family environment.  Each individual in Montana can protect children who are being abused or neglected by reporting suspected abuse or neglect. To report concerns about a child’s safety, call 1-866-820-KIDS (5437).  Another way to help is by learning more about becoming a licensed foster parent. To learn about becoming a foster parent, call 1-866-939-7837 (866-9FOSTER) or e-mail AskAboutFosterCare@mt.gov.

Page last updated: 03/29/2013