A rite of spring that few of us glorify is that of setting budgets for our local and state governments. It’s too bad, really. There is little else more compelling than a well-considered budget to evaluate the shared values of a community and its leadership. How do we spend the money that we’ve collected from ourselves for the common good?
I don’t know anyone – not one single person – who isn’t in favor or preventing child abuse. It’s one of the few remaining topics in our society that tends to halt partisanship and the “attack mode” associated with our political dialogue these days.
So we’re all in favor of preventing child abuse before it ever occurs. Great. How do we demonstrate that in our most important documents of public policy? We have laws saying it’s illegal, many mechanisms for reporting it, interceding to stop its repeat and punishment for abusers. That’s all good, but that is reacting to child abuse, not preventing it.
What are the policies and structures that we fund to prevent abuse? There are the obvious and direct actions of teaching and supporting new parents in what to expect with young children, but what about indirectly?
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When we expand the availability of affordable housing, we’re preventing child abuse. Families who have safe, decent housing that they can afford (about 30 percent of their total income) are under less financial stress and have money available for clothes, toys, healthcare and nutritious food.
When we collectively require living wages in our communities through public policies, we are preventing child abuse by seeking to ensure better financial security for low-income families. Parents who both have to work 60 hours a week to make the rent and put food on the table just don’t have the time to read books at bed time, help with homework or play in the park on Saturday.
When employers have benefits packages that allow workers to take time away from the job to attend events at school, stay home with sick children or elderly parents or take a vacation trip each year, they are providing competitive compensation that helps them retain good workers. Fantastic.
That said, employers are also preventing child abuse by acknowledging that their workers are members of a family whose relationships require nurturing attention. This supports the employees’ mental health and well-being. Workers who are less stressed, feel valued and appreciated on a human level are more productive and loyal. That’s smart business. Those are strong corporate values.
When we subsidize the development of new transportation options, we’re also preventing child abuse by making more employment options possible for those who can’t afford a car of their own, again, mitigating the financial burden that can be a deal-breaker for a struggling person who is looking for a better opportunity.
How we spend our money says everything about us as a community, a state and a nation. When local governments hold their public hearings on their annual budgets, these are commonly the least attended meetings they hold all year.
What can you do? Let your elected officials know that you support programs for affordable housing, transportation and better wages because these approaches support families – all families – and therefore help prevent child abuse.
Every kid deserves a great childhood. Every. Single. Kid. Making that possible takes the shared commitment of adults. Parents, teachers, healthcare providers and everyone in between – we all want to protect our kids from harm. At a time where we often seem unable to agree on much in the public square, this is still our common value. Let’s keep it that way.
Jean Bolduc is an author and the host of “The Weekend Watercooler” on WCHL. She serves on the Civic Education and Engagement Committee for Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina. For more information, please visit preventchildabusenc.org