All children face challenges during childhood – it’s how we learn and grow into responsible adults. However, some children face traumatic challenges they are too young to understand or know how to defend themselves against. They’ve not had time to develop ways to cope with trauma, build resilience or been helped by the support of a good mentor. #GreatChildhoods

Known as “adverse childhood events” (ACEs), these traumatic events can take a variety of bad turns as they damage children mentally, emotionally and physically. ACEs include emotional and physical neglect or abuse, verbal humiliation, sexual abuse, food insecurity, or growing up in a home with members who are mentally ill, have substance addiction, incarcerated, divorced or absent. About 25 percent of American adults have three or more ACEs. The immediate and long-term cost of child neglect and abuse is about $258 million each day, or $94 billion a year.

ACEs cannot be undone and the effects all too often follow the child into adulthood. In a child’s still-developing brain, these situations can put them at high-risk for autoimmune diseases, heart disease, cancer, depression and other chronic conditions. These conditions can occur decades after the trauma occurred.

In Arkansas, more than 52,000 referrals are made annually for child abuse and neglect. Of these referrals, 9,200 children were confirmed to have suffered abuse or neglect – 22 percent were physically abused; 21 percent were sexually abused.

Healing from ACEs often takes the form of developing resilience – the ability to recover from or adjust to misfortune. Resilience can lessen the impact of ACEs and produce healthier, happier and more productive adults. Resilience can provide protective factors that can help a child overcome the negative effects of abuse or neglect.

Community-wide prevention

Is your community doing all it can to be a great place to grow up? A community is only as good as its institutions, organizations and informal groups. Are the groups you spend time with doing all they can to help kids grow up healthy? What could be improved and what can you do to make those improvements? Start by talking with the other group members to raise their awareness this month, Child Abuse Prevention Month.

On Friday, April 6, help raise awareness of the importance of making great childhoods happen by joining businesses and organizations across the country in wearing blue. #ChildAbusePreventionMonth

At AFMC, we’re “planting” a pinwheel garden to symbolize the great, carefree childhood we believe every child deserves. The “Pinwheels for Prevention” will be on display at AFMC’s Little Rock campus, between Third and Fourth streets, and between Chester and Ringo streets. In Fort Smith, Pinwheels for Prevention will be at the Central Mall on Rogers Ave.

At 10 a.m., Wednesday, April 11, there will be a rally on the steps of the State Capitol Building in Little Rock to increase awareness about how prevention starts with you, your family and your community.

Parents need help

There’s never been a parent who couldn’t use some help with the kids. Even if they don’t know how to ask for it, 86 percent of adults say they “would be grateful” for help with childcare or other support. Schools can always use more volunteers – reading to young children, tutoring older kids, volunteering at an after-school program, helping coach a sport or sharing your hobbies in classroom talks.

Your behavior teaches values

Children learn by example. We are constantly teaching children – our children and grandchildren, neighborhood children, and strangers at the park or grocery store. Our behavior teaches children what’s acceptable and what is not; values about work, fun and learning; what’s important in life and how to lead a good life or a miserable one. Your life can touch another’s without you knowing it – for good or bad.

Watch for stress and isolation

Pay attention to the families you come in contact with regularly. Learn to recognize when parents or guardians are stressed or have become socially isolated. These are two key risk factors for child abuse and neglect. Without playing the blame game, ask how you can help and then just do it! If the need is greater than what you can offer, help them find community resources. This link provides toll-free crisis hotline phone numbers for 11 types of abuse or crisis that can affect a child, and his or her family. Focus on the children’s needs by listening to them, observing their body language and just being a trusted friend or neighbor. Communicate to the child that they matter, they are safe, and they have a place or a person to go to when they need extra support.

Be an advocate

If you want to be part of a community that supports great parenting and mentoring, support and advocate for abuse prevention initiatives such as foster parenting, prevent-bullying school curriculum, parenting classes, affordable childcare, sexual abuse prevention, safe and clean parks, food banks, constructive after-school and summer activities, opportunities for children’s art, music, dance, sports or other healthy pursuits. If there’s nothing positive to engage children, they will find mischief and, without a positive influence, become at-risk for crime or substance abuse.

Build social networks

Connecting your life to children’s lives teaches them how to build strong, healthy relationships. Social networks serve as a protective factor against abuse. Positive social ties have a huge impact on mental, emotional and physical health and well-being. Social ties help prevent abuse and violence toward others, according to the National Institutes of Health.

If you grew up in a family with abuse, it may be hard to know what healthy is because abuse feels normal to you. Positive relationships can provide a way to see and experience what a healthy childhood can be. A healthy relationship can give a wounded, damaged or abused child a hopeful example of a better life. For example, the quality of an infant’s emotional bond with a parent can have long-lasting positive or negative effects on the ability to develop healthy adult relationships.

Find resources

If you know children who are in crisis or in an abusive family, let them know you are concerned about them. Listen to them without judging or blaming them. Tell them the situation is not their fault. Offer to go with them to talk with someone who can help. Find resources at https://www.childwelfare.gov/.

Anyone who suspects abuse or neglect of a child may report it toll-free by calling the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-482-5964, or visiting this website www.childwelfare.gov/responding/reporting.cfm  You may also contact any member of law enforcement.

Prevent Child Abuse America offers ways that anyone can help any child reach their full potential, because every child deserves a great childhood.