GOSHEN — Preventing child abuse needs to be a community effort and include investing early in children’s lives, Candy Yoder, CEO and president of Child and Parent Services (CAPS), told the Goshen Chamber of Commerce’s Women’s Business Network on Wednesday, April 17.
“What I want to talk about today is more about the hope we have for all children, what we want to create for all children in our community,” Yoder said, including lives “free of pain, free of turmoil, free of trauma — carefree, joy-filled, happy, full of life.”
Poverty is the leading predictor that child abuse will occur in a family, “because it’s such a huge stressor,” Yoder explained. “If a parent is struggling to figure out how to get the next meal on the table, that’s a huge stressor. And if they’ve got a few other strikes against them and no support, (there’s a) high likelihood that those kids are going to be abused and neglected.”
Families are 14 times as likely to have abuse in them if the family is in poverty, she said.
For plenty of families, expecting a baby is an exciting and hopeful time, but it can be the opposite for parents in poverty, without friend and family support, resources and possibly an unhealthy upbringing themselves.
Significant differences between the vocabularies of children in poverty and other children can be seen as early as 16 months.
The differences go far beyond that, though, to other simple behaviors, like knowing what to do with a book by kindergarten.
“They don’t know if it’s upside down. They don’t know how to turn pages,” Yoder explained about some children. “It’s really sad that in our country, in our world, even in our community, we have homes that don’t have books,” she said.
Yoder listed the programs CAPS offers, including those that teach parenting skills and include home visits to work with families.
Other organizations in the area may offer similar programs, Yoder said, but “there is more need than is being met.”
CAPS works with about 8,000 people in Elkhart County annually, but there are other families beyond those who have requested help, as well, Yoder said.
“It is amazing how little intervention it takes to make a huge difference for most of these kids’ lives, especially as long as you catch them really early,” she said.
Yoder explained how important having a support system of family and friends is to parents. She also showed a video from the organization An Ounce of Prevention looking at several of the circumstances that make raising children difficult for families in poverty. Yoder and the video also mentioned how crucial those “first five years” are for a child’s development.
“They’re going to be our future employees, teachers, bankers, biz owners, elected officials,” Yoder said. “Or, they’re going to be our future health care costs, criminals, inmates, homeless. Really, the choice is up to us collectively, not just the parents, but collectively.”
People in the community can be involved, Yoder said, by being informed, advocating and volunteering to help local kids.