The pandemic created a perfect storm of risk factors for child, family and intimate partner abuse and neglect. Stress, financial strain, social isolation, and poor mental health, which all contribute to a greater likelihood for violence, have become the norm for too many families during the two last years.
Yet even during the pandemic, we have seen that when families have the support they need, abuse and maltreatment rates decline. That’s because family violence and neglect does not happen because parents and caregivers don’t love their children. Violence happens because parents and caregivers are pushed beyond the edge of what they can handle when even their most basic needs are not met.
When families have enough support, including economic support, mental health support, and paid leave, indicators of child abuse — emergency department visits, abusive head trauma admissions, and reports to child welfare offices — decrease.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and this year’s theme is “growing better together, we CAN prevent child abuse, North Carolina.” North Carolina’s future prosperity requires the healthy development of our children, and we all have a stake in preparing NC’s children to grow up to be healthy thriving parents, leaders, employees, and community members.
Employers play a vital role in building the strong foundations and nurturing experiences children and families need to thrive, and employers can start supporting families today by implementing family-friendly workplace policies within their own workplace that can help prevent child maltreatment from ever occurring. These policies include (but are certainly not limited to):
- employee assistance programs, which directly support families’ mental health;
- support to find and afford child care — a major financial burden for most families and an impediment for parents, especially women, to find work or stay in the workforce;
- health insurance plans that cover employees and their families and offer access to mental and physical health care;
- pregnancy accommodations, which help to reduce physical and emotional strain during pregnancy and lower maternal complications; and
- paid family leave, which improves family functioning, including preventing child maltreatment and reducing domestic violence, and dramatically improves birth outcomes.
These protective factors have been shown to increase parental resilience, knowledge of child development, and parenting skills; improve social connections for families; and lead to better social and emotional competence for children.
Family-friendly workplace practices also make business sense. At The Redwoods Group, policies like 20 weeks of paid leave following a birth or adoption stem from the idea that employees’ basic needs must be met before they can fully realize their potential.
As more N.C. workplaces invest in policies that promote healthy children, families, employers, and communities, we will build a more prosperous future for us all. We encourage all N.C. employers to learn what they can do to improve their family-friendly workplace policies and help all N.C. children grow better together.