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A campaign for great childhoods

During this election year, child advocates are challenging candidates for elective office to talk about their proposals for ensuring safe, stable, and nurturing environments for our children. Our state only ranks 35th in child well-being: more than 130,000 child abuse and neglect reports are made annually, our child poverty rate is 25 percent and 24 percent of North Carolina’s children have experienced two or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), to name a few issues that should be addressed.

Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina (PCANC) joins NC Child in challenging all candidates for elective office to lead a conversation about how we can make great childhoods possible for every child. Like our partners at NC Child, as a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization we don’t engage in electoral politics and don’t endorse specific candidates, but we care deeply what our candidates and elected leaders say and plan to do to support child and family friendly policies.

Our hope in 2016 is to hear candidates talk about creating a campaign for great childhoods. Did you know that experiences in childhood shape our lives for the long term? When we invest in great childhoods we are investing in safe, stable, and nurturing environments for children. We are investing in school success and increased graduation rates; healthier, more productive future employees contributing to NC’s tax base; reduced costs in our social services, criminal justice, and health-care systems as well as reduced taxes. It is win-win-win for children, families, and society.

But, Adverse Childhood Experiences can undermine these investments. ACEs are potentially traumatic events that can have negative, lasting effects on health and well-being. These experiences range from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse to parental divorce or the incarceration of a parent or guardian. A child is more at risk for ACEs when their parents experience stressors like economic hardship, social isolation, lack of health care, or inability to obtain basic necessities. In NC, 32 percent of our children have parents who lack secure employment; 38 percent live in single-parent homes; and, 6 percent are without health insurance.

The lifelong consequences are often devastating to individual children and families – and they are also a drain on our businesses and taxpayers. Higher health care costs, incarceration rates, lost work time, and shortages of emotionally and mentally prepared workers are all directly correlated to ACEs. This does not have to happen. The answer is simple: To build a healthy future for North Carolina, we must invest in prevention and focus on strengthening our families and communities.

At PCANC, we work hard to build great childhoods through evidence-based program support, advocacy for public policies that foster safe, stable, nurturing environments, and public awareness about the ways all of us can prevent abuse and neglect from ever happening.

We need candidates to talk about these issues on the stump in order to build public understanding and public will to address the problems that affect children adversely. Imagine if our newly elected leaders—from school boards to city councils and county commissions to legislators to the Governor—were talking about crafting policies to create healthier families and more productive employees. Imagine if they were endorsing programs that build strong family support systems and reduce stress on families.

Imagine what a great future that would create for North Carolina. Let’s all ask our candidates what they would do to address our children’s problems and campaign for great childhoods: it’s up to us to help set the agenda.

Sharon Hirsch

Sharon Hirsch is the president of Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina.