How can one person make a difference?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Child maltreatment is a widespread problem. Nearly five children in the United States die every day as a result of abuse or neglect. More than 75% are under the age of four.

Both the statistics and the stories are horrifying. When we’re confronted with such a massive problem, it’s natural to feel hopeless. It’s natural to say, “How can one person possibly make a difference?”

The truth is this is the only way we can make a difference—one person at a time. And then one more. And then another. And another.

Confucius said, To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.”

Some people think that preventing child abuse means calling the police or Child Protective Services when you see something happening. While it’s the right thing to do at that point, reporting isn’t the same thing as prevention-- anymore than chemotherapy is cancer prevention.

So, you may ask, how can child maltreatment be prevented? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Support programs in your community that are effective in helping families. If you don’t know about such programs, check with your local Department of Child Services office or United Way.

  2. Child maltreatment happens in all kinds of families, all income levels, in every neighborhood. Reach out to families you know. Offer to take the kids for a few hours to give harried parents a much-needed break.

  3. Remember that families become strong when they are supported by a strong community.

  4. Find out if there is a Child Abuse Prevention Council in your county by checking our web site: If there is a Council, contact them to see how you can help. If there isn’t a Council in your county, contact Mary Armstrong-Smith ( to learn how to get one started.

  5. Understand that abuse and neglect can have long term consequences for a child. Stress releases chemicals in the brain that weaken brain architecture and hinder brain development.

  6. Help spread the message that we all have a stake in developing healthy kids. “Children are one third of our population and all of our future.” (Select Panel for the Promotion of Child Health, 1981)

Remember that child maltreatment is a problem with solutions that don’t always receive the attention they should. This is not a problem that should be left only to parents and social workers. Children are everyone’s future!

We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.” (Marian Wright Edelman)

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