Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hard times can bring harsh treatment


News that Idaho's economy has been hit harder than all but two states makes me worry. Of course, it makes all of us worry. We're worried about whether we are the next layoff statistic or whether our pensions are intact or whether we can still send our kids to college.

I worry about my own family's economic well-being like everyone else. But I am especially worried because of the work I do as director of the Idaho Children's Trust Fund. We are charged with preventing child abuse and neglect and work with agencies and organizations around the state who are working to help families provide the best nurturing environment they can for raising their children.

I am worried because we know that when there are economic hard times, we see more incidents of child abuse. In fact, Childhelp, a national nonprofit organization focused on child abuse, notes nationwide calls to their organization are up 8 to 10 percent in just the past three or four months. We know that in Idaho an increase in food stamp use, which was noted as a key indicator of economic difficulties in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report, can be linked to increases in child abuse down the road.

All of us who are parents know that parenting in the best of times is one tough job. When we can provide for our family's needs, it's easier to let the daily stresses of child rearing roll off our backs. It's a lot harder to feel so resilient when we are faced with bills we cannot pay along with the pressures of everyday life. Under enough stress, we are all more likely to abuse our children.

The media would have us believe that we should be most worried about "stranger danger" when it comes to abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth. Over 80 percent of child abuse and neglect is committed by parents—parents like you and me—who do not wake up in the morning planning to hurt their children.

All of us need help sometimes. Some of us are fortunate to have family and friends who can help out when we need it. They can help us stay resilient, help us understand our child's development, give us good parenting advice and keep us from feeling isolated. When we don't have that natural support, though, there are community organizations that can help.

Roger Sherman is executive director of the Idaho Children's Trust Fund, which is also the state affiliate of Prevent Child Abuse America.

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