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Safe to Thrive: Georgia Aims to Prevent Child Abuse, Bullying

March 31, 2014

Making Georgia a safe place for children is a priority for Gov. Nathan Deal, and in the month of April, the Georgia Children’s Cabinet will focus on promoting safe communities and stable families where children can thrive. 

The cabinet’s goal is to make Georgia’s children safe at home, at school and in their communities. To do that, advocates around the state are focusing on child abuse prevention and awareness, anti-bullying programs and mental health and wellness. Gov. Deal and first lady Sandra Deal will highlight these elements at the State Capitol on Wed., April 2, when the Governor proclaims April as Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month in Georgia.

Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) and a member of the Georgia Children’s Cabinet, said the department is committed to supporting the Governor’s goals because creating a safe, secure environment for children is a critical part of ensuring the public’s health.

“Research tells us that trauma and stress are profoundly toxic for a child’s health and development. Those effects stay with them throughout their entire lives,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s critical that we work together to address and prevent these heartbreaking scenarios.”

Each year, about 3,500 children in Georgia suffer abuse or neglect, according to the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS). In 2011, child protective service agencies throughout the U.S. reported more than 676,000 children were victims of maltreatment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have identified child abuse and neglect as a major public health issue. Studies have shown that children who are neglected or suffer physical, emotional or sexual abuse are more likely to be in poor physical health, have higher rates of depression and anxiety and to struggle with social difficulties as adults. These effects take a huge financial toll as well. A recent CDC study showed that the total lifetime estimated cost associated with just one year of confirmed cases of child maltreatment is about $124 billion.

The answer is promoting safety, stability and nurturing places for children at home and in the community. DPH and its Georgia partners are joining CDC in doing just that by promoting the Safe Stable Nurturing Relationships and Environments initiative. 

This promising practice works in part by raising awareness that child abuse and neglect can be prevented and by aligning work and resources at local levels to prevent maltreatment. DPH has joined organizations like Prevent Child Abuse Georgia, the Governor’s Office of Children and Families (GOCF), DFCS, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS) in putting the initiative into practice in Georgia.

April will also be a time for Georgia to focus on protecting children from bullying and ensuring their mental health and wellness. The Georgia Children’s Cabinet and DPH encourage all parents to learn the facts about bullying and to talk with their children about dealing with difficult situations and emotions. Check out these resources on bullying and emotional health from the American Academy of Pediatrics for more information.

To learn more about what Georgia communities are doing to confront and stop bullying from harming children, read our past coverage on anti-bullying programs in communities in west Georgia and northwest Georgia.

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Placing children into a mixed reality-part virtual environment and part real world-has great potential for increasing their physical activity and decreasing their risk of obesity, according to University of Georgia researchers.

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