There is a traditional greeting among the African tribe the Masai, passed down through generations. It is “Kasserian ingera,” which, simply translated, means, “And how are the children?” The question is asked until the answer, “All the children are well,” is given. This would mean that the priorities for protecting the young and vulnerable were in place, that the Masai community was doing everything it could to ensure the safety and prosperity of its youngest generation.
The president of the California State Association of Counties, Dave Finigan, has called for 2013 to be the Year of the Child — a year in which all communities and all governing bodies ask themselves how the children are doing and act with that in mind. Here in Nevada County, the members of the Community Support Network, a collaborative of more than 50 family service organizations, are donning T-shirts that ask “And how are the children?” as a reminder to keep our children’s present and future in mind.
In Nevada County, we are blessed with good schools, a caring community and many supports, such as family resource centers, home visiting programs, parenting classes and multiple faith-based organizations. But we need to keep in mind some sobering statistics: 1 in 6 children (16.6 percent) in Nevada County lives in poverty — a rate that grew by 62.6 percent from 2008 to 2011 according to the American Community Survey. To put that in perspective, 1 in 20 senior citizens (4.8 percent) in Nevada County lives in poverty — and that rate grew by only 10.4 percent in those same three years. Most poor children live in households with a working parent. Too many of our children are living in poverty.
The number of children in foster care has also been on the rise. With the economic downturn, families have been under increased stress, and this is the number one risk factor for child abuse and neglect. Child development is like building a home, in some ways — in brain architecture, the foundation creates the stability for all the structure put on top. When a child experiences so-called “toxic stress” — from things like abuse, fear, lack of interaction, hunger or witnessing violence — it weakens the brain structure by stopping brain cells from growing and forming connections to each other. This, in turn, leaves the child at risk for emotional, cognitive and behavioral problems in childhood and into adulthood. We need to provide support to families so that their children’s “foundation” can be strong and stable.
We can avoid toxic stress in children’s lives by building on family and community strengths, by making sure we are offering parenting classes, natural gathering places for families, positive activities for families and children, supports for stressed families, access to behavioral health and substance abuse treatment services, job training for parents, hunger and homelessness prevention and a community that values and respects children and youth.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. This month and throughout the year, the Child Abuse Prevention Council and the Community Support Network encourage all individuals and organizations to play a role in making Nevada County a better place for children and families. By ensuring that parents have the knowledge, skills and resources they need to care for their children, we can help promote children’s social and emotional well-being and ensure a strong foundation for children’s brain architecture.
So when you see someone wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “And how are the children?” ask them what they have been working on to help support children and families in Nevada County — and how you might play a role, too. One day, we will be able to answer “All the children are well.”
Together with the other members of Community Support Network, the Child Abuse Prevention Council is working to strengthen our families and create a safe community. Find out more about resources that support parents and promote healthy families by visiting http://csnnc.org
Lindsay Dunckel, Ph.D., is the executive director of First 5 Nevada County, chair of the Child Abuse Prevention Council, and member of the steering committee of the Community Support Network.