Lisa Smittcamp: We must confront Fresno child abuse crisis

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We have a moral obligation as a society to protect all children from harm.

I applaud The Fresno Bee’s recent coverage of the inspiring work of our medical professionals at the Valley Children’s Hospital, who are encountering an alarming number of cases of child abuse and neglect. This is a medical crisis, a moral crisis, and a public safety emergency.

As district attorney part of my job is to seek justice for crime victims and ensure public safety. It is also imperative that I use my position to advocate for policies that prevent crime. The most important thing we can do – bar none – to prevent crime in our community is beginning prenatally, to provide children with safe and nurturing environments, and to do all we can to see that parents and youngsters are educated.

Neuroscientists tell us that the first few years of a child’s life are a period of unparalleled brain development, with hundreds and thousands of connections forming in the brain every second. This “wiring” is the basis on which all future learning will be built.

Yet far too many children do not get the stimulating and nurturing environments that they need. All too often, they start kindergarten behind their peers, often exhibiting signs of trauma or neglect – and stay that way throughout their academic careers, placing them at higher risk of dropping out and turning to crime. How can we improve parenting, and how can we ensure that all children start school healthy and ready to learn?

I am a strong supporter of voluntary home-visiting programs that enable young, inexperienced parents to receive guidance from nurses and other trained mentors who help them understand how to address their children’s physical and emotional needs and become better moms and dads. We need to develop a plan to substantially expand the availability of home visiting offered through evidence-based home-visiting programs like the Nurse-Family Partnership.

NFP is a voluntary parent education program with 37 years of success in reducing preterm births, maternal mortality, pregnancy complications, and child abuse and neglect. This parent coaching begins prenatally, involving weekly parent education visits by specially trained nurses up through the child’s second birthday. Forty years of rigorous evaluation of the NFP program documents its effectiveness. The results: Child abuse and neglect incidents are reduced by half, children’s medical and educational outcomes greatly improve, and future criminality for participating mothers and children are vastly reduced.


From the Fresno Bee: Read More Here

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