Written by Executive Director Claire Louge

Ever since I started with Prevent Child Abuse Arizona nearly 10 years ago, I’ve had opportunities to offer presentations to various groups. After introducing myself and sharing the mission of PCAAZ, I usually ask a question: “How can we prevent child abuse?”

A decade ago, I got a lot of the same answer. It went something like this: “You teach people to look for signs of abuse and neglect, and you tell them to call CPS.”  

See something, say something.

That’s not prevention.

I’m not saying reporting suspected child abuse and neglect isn’t important – it is. What I’m saying is that reporting is intervention, not prevention. Intervention manages the problem. We want to get ahead of it, to address its root cause. We want to prevent abuse from happening in the first place.

So how do we do that? A few years into my career with PCAAZ, I started to get a different answer from my audiences. How do we prevent child abuse? “You educate parents,” people said. “Because if they knew better ways to parent, they wouldn’t resort to violence to discipline their children.”

Know better, do better.

That answer is more accurate, but it still doesn’t capture the whole of what prevention means. Parenting education is one of many strategies we can offer to prevent child maltreatment, but tips and tools for parents are just a piece of the prevention picture.

Understanding of prevention is evolving. Now when I ask the question to my audiences, I’m starting to get more answers that sound like this: To prevent child maltreatment, we need to support the ability of families to meet the needs of their children.

That means a whole lot of things, because prevention is about a whole lot of things. There’s finally a burgeoning acknowledgement that the systems that have been set up – or not set up – to support families matter.

We now know we can’t just give parents bad choices and then blame them for making a bad choice. That life is getting more and more expensive, and families are getting squeezed. That parenting is already stressful, and when we expect parents to raise children and meet their family’s needs without the structures in place to get those needs met, like affordable child care, parental leave, and support navigating what’s available to help them, we’re complicit in child maltreatment, because we are neglecting families. We are not providing all families with the access to what they need to raise safe, healthy children. We need to change that. If we want to protect children, we need to support families. Supporting families is prevention.

If you’re someone who works with or on behalf of families and children, you may not think yourself as someone who is preventing child abuse. But if you are doing anything to help parents cope with stress, if you’re teaching effective parenting strategies, if you’re connecting families with the basics they need to stay afloat or each other for support, or if you’re nurturing the development of children, you’re preventing child abuse and neglect.

Prevention is family support. Supporting families is child abuse prevention. That’s what prevention means.