Child abuse and neglect are major public health problems. Nationally, nearly one in three adults reports that they were emotionally, physically or sexually abused as a child and one in nine reports having been emotionally or physically neglected. In Georgia, 200 incidents of child abuse and neglect are reported every day, and of those, 33 cases are confirmed. In 2011, 65 children died from maltreatment.
These tragedies have devastating impacts on children, families and the justice system. But the effects of abuse and neglect also have lingering, damaging consequences for a child’s future health. Research has shown that abuse and neglect in childhood, known to researchers as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), have a strong relationship with the development of chronic diseases later in life.
Studies have shown an ACE is associated with an increased risk of smoking, lung diseases, suicide attempts, heart disease, liver disease, alcohol abuse and depression. The more ACEs a person experiences as a child, the more likely they are to develop these diseases. Along with its physical and emotional costs, the total lifetime financial toll of child maltreatment in the U.S. is estimated at more than $125 billion a year.
But child maltreatment is preventable, and it starts with promoting safe, healthy communities. Research demonstrates that the cycle of violence and neglect can be broken with safe, stable, nurturing relationships between adults and children and within communities.
Promoting those environments not only impacts the treatment of children, but can impact many aspects of public health. The very same factors that help to create healthy Georgia communities by supporting physical activity, access to healthy foods, tobacco and drug-free environments and access to preventive health care services can help to prevent child neglect and abuse. Adults that have stable employment, stable housing in violence-free communities and opportunities for social connectedness are less likely to commit child maltreatment. Georgia’s Healthy Communities initiative supports communities and groups creating healthy environments.
Georgia has many programs that reach out to the state’s most vulnerable populations, both to improve their health and prevent child maltreatment. Home visiting programs like Babies Can’t Wait also help to reduce the incidence of child maltreatment by ensuring support for families of children at risk for developmental delays, a population at high risk of child maltreatment. Georgia’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which offers supplemental nutrition support to pregnant women and infants through engagement in face-to-face appointments, can also serve as sources of social support for families. These programs, in turn, reduce the long-term risks of chronic disease for children and families in Georgia.
But one of the most important ways to protect children and ensure their good health is to take action to keep children safe. If you know or suspect a child is being abused or neglected, call 911 if the child is in immediate danger, or call the Department of Family and Children Services at 1-855-GACHILD.