Three years ago, following a two-year effort by the Miles for Smiles Foundation, our provincial government proclaimed April to be Child Abuse Prevention Month. It was the first initiative of its kind in the country.
The foundation has worked tirelessly to increase awareness about the issue, highlight safety for children, and diminish the risk factors for our most vulnerable.
The latest statistics from our provincial files indicate that four cases of child abuse are reported daily. Critical to note is that only 10 per cent of all incidents are ever reported. If each incident was reported, that would translate to 40 cases daily. It makes one wonder what happens to the other 36 children in a day.
As April draws near and preparations are being made to heighten awareness, it may be helpful for people to have more information around the topic of abuse. Studies and research have been consistent for decades. As victims of these horrific crimes, children are prone to: depression; anxiety; sickness (ulcers, headaches, insomnia, etc.); eating disorders; learning problems; aggression; substance abuse; self-harm, and suicide. Many will struggle all through adulthood.
One study (Flaherty et al., 2006) found that exposure to one adverse experience doubled the odds of children having overall poor physical health at the age of 6, and tripled them if children had experienced four or more adverse experiences. Being exposed to more than five incidents increases, tenfold, the likelihood that a person will become drug addicted. There are hundreds of incidents of domestic violence in our province every day; in the vast majority of those, children are exposed to violence or caught in the crossfire. Abuse is a major risk factor in children’s health.
Other statistics cementing the negative consequences of child abuse include: about half of incarcerated people in Canada were abused as children, and 49 per cent of homeless women were sexually abused as children. Again, only a snippet of the long term. The total annual cost of addressing child abuse is in the billions and billions of dollars.
Currently, per capita in our province, we are experiencing the highest rates in the country on these issues: tobacco use; heart disease; obesity; diabetes; autism; illiteracy; individual debt load; internet crimes (pornography, luring, procurement, etc.), and distracted driving. In 2015, St. John’s recorded both the highest alcohol-impaired and drug-impaired driving rates in the country. Recently, we surpassed all other provinces in antibiotic overuse, plus it was reported we use more sleeping pills and pain pills than any of our fellow Canadians. We also experience some of the highest (at one time, the highest) rates of domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault in Canada. We have the 3rd highest rate of alcohol consumption, and not surprisingly, the 3rd highest insurance rates in the country. Children are affected daily by these statistics — either directly or indirectly. Our people are continually at risk because these statistics have basically remained the same for decades.
We are now less than 500,000 people, and it would seem that the sharing of information/education, prevention protocols, practices, and resources would make it easier to achieve better outcomes. Every day, there are community groups and agencies such as Marguerite’s Place, Choices for Youth, St. John’s Native Friendship Centre, Kids Eat Smart Foundation, etc., doing their very best to respond to specific needs but they desperately need support. We need to connect the dots! Unlike most diseases, child abuse is preventable. We need a better unified plan to educate our citizens, especially children! In schools, we need informative curriculums, restorative justice (on Facebook, Relationships First NL, the focus being problem solving and healthy relationships), Roots of Empathy programs (RootsofEmpathy.org and on Facebook, Roots of Empathy — which was started by a NLer), and an expeditious intervention when abuse is reported.
We may be considered the friendliest province in the country but we are far from being the healthiest … on so many levels. On behalf of all children, let’s commit to doing better.
If you would like to participate in April’s activities, please connect with www.milesforsmilesfoundation.com or on Facebook – Miles for Smiles.
Committee member, Miles for Smiles Foundation