Sacramento County Blue Ribbon Commission Report on Disproportionate African American Child Deaths states Child abuse and neglect homicides were the third highest disproportionate cause of death from 1990 – 2009; 30% (48 of 158) of decedents were African American children but only comprise 11% of the child population.
Child abuse and neglect homicide is a homicide where the perpetrator is the primary caregiver; a death in which a child is killed, either directly, or indirectly, by his/her caregiver. Eighty-one percent (128 of 158) of the child abuse and neglect homicides of all children and 77% (37 of 48) of the child abuse and neglect homicides of African American children occurred in children 0 to 5 years of age. Fifty-seven percent (94 of 165) of the perpetrators of all child abuse and neglect homicides and 61% (31 of 51) of the perpetrators of African American victims of child abuse and neglect homicides were the biological parents. This includes the mother or father acting alone, or both parents acting together.
Risk factors were known to be present in 65% (102 of 158) of all child abuse and neglect homicides and in 67% (32 of 48) of all child abuse and neglect homicides with African American victims. Information on known African American child abuse and neglect homicide risk factors include:
- Alcohol and other drugs (40%)
- Child Protective Services Involvement (29%)
- Mental Illness (29%)
- Violent Crime (17%)
- Domestic Violence (17%)
In their 2016 Final Report, the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities [Link to Report] recognized that thousands of children die each year in the United States at the hands of those who were supposed to protect them. Every child who dies from abuse or neglect, has a profound and devastating impact on their families and their communities.
Analyses of data shows social isolation, young or single parents, parents who struggle with mental health issues or substance abuse or domestic violence, and lack of parenting skills are all associated with increased risk of child fatality from abuse or neglect. Although poverty itself does not cause child abuse or neglect, it puts strains on parents that can elevate stress and increase risk to children.
Disproportionately high numbers of African American children die from abuse or neglect. Child Maltreatment 2014 reports that African American children die from child abuse or neglect at a rate that is two-and-a-half times greater than that of white or Hispanic children. Although African American children are approximately 16 percent of the child population nationally, they make up 30 percent of the child abuse and neglect fatalities.
A public health approach for child safety is one that promotes the healthy development and well-being of children. The Black Child Legacy Campaign has adopted a public health approach to child safety and prevention of fatalities by working not only at the family level, but also at the community and societal level. Public and private sectors work together to align, leverage, and coordinate existing resources to provide support to children and families and to address risks and promote resilience before there is a crisis.
ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES
ACEs are adverse childhood experiences that harm children’s developing brains so profoundly that the effects show up decades later; they cause much of chronic disease, most mental illness, and are at the root of most violence.
Brain science shows that, in the absence of protective factors, toxic stress damages children’s developing brains. Stress is the body’s normal response to challenging events or environments. Positive stress — the first day of school, a big exam, a sports challenge — is part of growing up, and parents or caregivers help children prepare for and learn how to handle positive stress, which is moderate and doesn’t last long. It increases heart rate and the amount of stress hormones in the body, but they return to normal levels quickly.
But when events or the environment are threatening or harmful – we stumble across a bear in the woods – our brains instantly zap into fight, flight or freeze mode and bypass our thinking brains, which can be way too analytical to save us (Is the bear really mean? Is it more interested in berries or killing me? Should I wait until I see it charge?). With help from caring adults, children also recover from this tolerable stress.
Too much stress – toxic stress – occurs when that raging bear comes home from the bar every night, says pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris. Then a child’s brain and body will produce an overload of stress hormones — such as cortisol and adrenaline — that harm the function and structure of the brain. This can be particularly devastating in children, whose brains are developing at a galloping pace from before they are born to age three. Toxic stress is the kind of stress that can come in response to living for months or years with a screaming alcoholic father, a severely depressed and neglectful mother or a parent who takes out life’s frustrations by whipping a belt across a child’s body.
“ACEs” comes from the CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, a groundbreaking public health study that discovered that childhood trauma leads to the adult onset of chronic diseases, depression and other mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence.
ACEs are common…nearly two-thirds (64%) of adults have at least one.
They cause adult onset of chronic disease, such as cancer and heart disease, as well as mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence.
ACEs don’t occur alone….if you have one, there’s an 87% chance that you have two or more. The more ACEs you have, the greater the risk for chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence. People have an ACE score of 0 to 10. Each type of trauma counts as one, no matter how many times it occurs. You can think of an ACE score as a cholesterol score for childhood trauma. For example, people with an ACE score of 4 are twice as likely to be smokers and seven times more likely to be alcoholic. Having an ACE score of 4 increases the risk of emphysema or chronic bronchitis by nearly 400 percent, and suicide by 1200 percent. People with high ACE scores are more likely to be violent, to have more marriages, more broken bones, more drug prescriptions, more depression, and more autoimmune diseases. People with an ACE score of 6 or higher are at risk of their lifespan being shortened by 20 years.
ACEs are responsible for a big chunk of workplace absenteeism, and for costs in health care, emergency response, mental health and criminal justice. So, the fifth finding from the ACE Study is that childhood adversity contributes to most of our major chronic health, mental health, economic health and social health issues.
STRENGTHENING FAMILIES / PROTECTIVE FACTORS PROMOTE WELL BEING
Prevention is the best hope for reducing child abuse and neglect and improving the lives of children and families. Strengthening families and preventing child abuse requires a shared commitment of individuals and organizations in every community.
Protective factors are conditions or attributes in individuals, families, communities, or the larger society that, when present, mitigate or eliminate risk in families and communities that, when present, increase the health and well-being of children and families. Protective factors help parents to find resources, supports, or coping strategies that allow them to parent effectively, even under stress.
Research has shown that protective factors are linked to a lower incidence of child abuse and neglect:
RESOURCES FOR PROVIDERS
Sacramento Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Programs Birth & Beyond Family Resource Centers
Young children require love, and support from their parents and caregivers in order to build a strong foundation for their development and growth. Recognizing that healthy child development begins at home and children can’t thrive when families are struggling, services are focused on strengthening and empowering parents.The Birth & Beyond Family Resource Centers offer a wide range of free services to Sacramento County’s Families, including pregnant moms and new dads. Birth & Beyond Family Resource Centers offer Nurturing Parenting Home Visitation, Crisis Intervention, School Readiness, Parenting Workshops, Community Referrals, and FUN ACTIVITIES for the entire family!
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Sacramento Crisis Nursery
The Sacramento Crisis Nursery Program is a family-strengthening program where parents can bring their children, newborn through age five for emergency child care or overnight care during stressful or difficult times.
- Voluntary, confidential and free
- Care provided 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
- Children are cared for in a safe, loving and homelike environment
- Age-appropriate play and learning activities
- Crisis Intervention services and case management support for the family
- Two locations: South Sacramento & North Sacramento
Sacramento Crisis Nursery is here if you need help caring for your children for any reason.
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The Child Abuse Prevention Center
The Child Abuse Prevention Center has been a state, national and international service, training, advocacy and resource center dedicated to protecting children and building healthy families.
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RESOURCES FOR PARENTS
First 5 Sacramento connects families with programs that give children a healthy start during that critical first 5 years. We understand that today’s parents face many challenges and tough choices as they raise their kids. That’s why we’re here to help.
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- Center for the Study of Social Policy’s Strengthening Families: A Protective Factors Framework
- Adverse Childhood Experiences and Life Opportunities: Shifting the Narrative
- Within Our Reach: A National Strategy to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities
- Racial Disproportionality and Disparity in Child Welfare