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Adverse Childhood Experiences in Cumberland County

Co-Author Hallee Haygood The Challenge W … Read more

Co-Author Hallee Haygood

The Challenge

When children face extreme adversity at a young age, it impacts their well-being in the present and later on. It can create many social, physical, and psychological problems for children as they continue to age, as North Carolina Health News described. Most states define “adverse childhood experience” as neglect or abuse that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child. Data about adverse childhood experiences in North Carolina are available from the United Health Foundation.

Read more about adverse childhood experiences (ACES) from Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina, which offers support to interested community members who want to come together to build Community Child Abuse Prevention Plans. Cases of adverse childhood experience can lead to toxic stress and death. North Carolina has seen an increase in rates of children going into foster care after experiencing neglect or abuse. As such, Cumberland County felt that it was time to address these issues in a bold way.

The Solution

After the community endured the death of a child due to abuse, Cumberland County leaders decided the problem of adverse childhood experiences must be addressed. They were the first county in North Carolina to create a “Community Childhood Abuse Prevention Plan.” It focuses on promoting protective factors (like social and emotional competence, knowledge of parenting, and child development, resilience, connectedness, and concrete support) to foster community and family support that nurtures a child’s development. Read the plan adopted by the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners in 2017 at this link.

Research indicates that prevention plans at the local level are essential because the most change can occur within communities and families as personal investment increases. Additionally, such prevention plans bring different sectors together to address local issues. The CDC created a list of different approaches to improve quality of life for children and decrease abuse. As communities implement more prevention plans and strategies at the local level, more children are likely to avoid adverse experiences.

 The Players

Lead agencies in developing the Cumberland County plan included: Cumberland County Schools, Child Advocacy Center, Partnership for Children of Cumberland County, Cumberland County public health and social services officials, Fayetteville Police Department, and the local district attorney. The Cumberland plan incorporates research about protective factors, which are conditions in families and communities that increase the health and well-being of children and families. These attributes serve as buffers, helping parents find resources, support, or coping strategies that allow them to parent effectively, even under stress. Research has shown that the protective factors are linked to a lower incidence of child abuse and neglect.

Prevent Child Abuse provides information about the risk factors that increase the likelihood of child abuse and neglect, which include:

  • Young parents may lack experience with children or be unprepared for the responsibility of raising a child.
  • Unrealistic expectations. A lack of knowledge about normal child development or behavior may result in frustration and, ultimately, abusive discipline.
  • Families struggling with poverty, unstable housing, divorce, or unemployment may be at greater risk.
  • Substance use. The effects of substance use, as well as time, energy, and money spent obtaining drugs or alcohol, significantly impair parents’ abilities to care for their children.
  • Intergenerational trauma. Parents’ own experiences of childhood trauma impact their relationships with their children.
  • Effective parenting is more difficult when parents lack a supportive partner, family, or community.

The Promise

For communities who seek to address adverse childhood experiences, two determinants can make all the difference: funding and networks. Funding from diverse sources allowed Cumberland County to create the Community Childhood Abuse Prevention Plan that engaged 22 local public and nonprofit agencies in identifying strategies to reduce adverse childhood experiences 90 percent by 2030. Further, the network enabled these agencies with various missions and goals to collaborate on a common agenda. They are stronger and more effective together than they could be acting independently.

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