Strong Start: Child abuse prevention in AustinWritten by Emma Rogers
When we talk about the cycle of violence, it’s easy to lose sight of what that actually means. In simple terms, a child who is abused or neglected is more likely to experience violence again later in life, or use violence against others.
The cycle of violence can span generations and pass unhealthy learned behaviors onto the next generation of family members. But with resilience, that cycle can also be broken.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, which gives us an opportunity to reflect on how this issue affects our Central Texas community. Every child deserves a safe and loving home, but it’s not the reality for many children in our state and around the world. Experiencing trauma as a child can have serious, life-long effects on a person’s physical and mental health and can even alter the development of a child’s brain.
Long-term effects of child abuse
Research shows that children who experience abuse, or even witness violence, are more likely to have heart disease, obesity, anxiety, depression, and other health issues in adulthood as a result of the stress they endured while growing up.
Research also shows that child abuse and neglect stem from a multitude of underlying issues, including lack of parenting knowledge and support, substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health issues, and the lack of ability to meet basic needs. These correlated issues often co-occur and are most prevalent in families where parents were themselves abused, neglected, or exposed to other trauma during their early years.
Programs like Strong Start support parents
Building a positive relationship with your child takes constant, intentional effort, even in the toughest moments. But there are resources available right here in Austin to help reduce this stress and empower families to be the best they can be.
An integral part of our work at SAFE involves supporting families and young people to help them develop healthy relationships and parenting skills. SAFE’s Strong Start program supports parents with positive strategies to challenging behaviors, like tantrums, disrespect, and screen-time.
These free, multilingual services are tailored to meet the needs of the family. Parent educators meet with parents twice a month, either in the home, in a convenient public location, or in a group, and use evidence-based curricula to give parents extra strategies they can use to improve their children’s behaviors.
Parents decide which goals they have for their kids’ behaviors, which strategies they’d like to use from the curricula, and are able to process how effective they are during visits from the parent educator. Though there are tons of books on parenting and what to expect, it helps to have a friendly face, backed by tons of training, along the way.
SAFE’s Fatherhood Program
SAFE also offers a similar program specifically designed for fathers, which works with men to acknowledge and enhance their skills and build strong, healthy bonds with their children. The goal of this program is to help every father and father figure realize the key role they play in their family and society. In an encouraging and supportive environment, fathers can discuss relevant issues such as overcoming fatherhood challenges, fathering without violence and fear, building healthy relationships, and more.
SAFE recognizes the importance of a safe and healthy home for the well-being and success of children as they grow. As a community, we have seen the success in reaching families before child trauma or family crisis occurs. In 2017, Strong Start provided parent education services to over 1,500 parents and children. As the population of Austin continues to grow, so will the number of people who need these services. By coming together as a community, we can work together to keep Austin safe.
Connect with SAFE
For more information or to enroll in SAFE’s Strong Start or Fatherhood programs, visit safeaustin.org/strongstart. If you or someone you know needs support with situations of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, domestic violence, child abuse, and/or human trafficking, please contact our 24/7 SAFEline by calling 512.267.7233, texting 737.888.7233, or chatting online at safeaustin.org/chat.