April is 'Prevent Child Abuse' Month

Uplifting Moments Column
Rev. Jean Sullivan
United Church of Christ

April is “Prevent Child Abuse” Month. Every person of faith can take this opportunity to consider just what it is their faith calls them to do when it comes to preventing child abuse, child neglect, and the cumulative long term effects of a variety of adverse experiences many children in our community live through. Many organizations that care about the wellbeing of children in the state of Iowa have come together to develop an approach to prevention called “Connections Matter.” From Connections Matter for the Faith community we hear some background:

“stress is something we all experience to varying degrees. Experiencing some stress is a normal and healthy part of life. Moderate amounts of stress, like anticipating a move or paying taxes, help our minds and bodies develop positive responses, like preparing ahead of time. However, when a person experiences stress that is powerful, frequent, prolonged, and unpredictable, particularly in childhood, those experiences can be traumatic and impact their life-long health. Traumatic stress can stem from events such as loss of a loved one, experiencing or witnessing physical violence, homelessness, or having parents who have a period of prolonged unemployment. Traumatic stress, especially when experienced in the absence of supportive relationships and communities, can become toxic. Toxic stress is now commonly acknowledged to be a major determinant of poor physical and mental health outcomes.”

Toxic Stress, The Brain, And Community

When we consider these things we may think of it as an issue for an individual to deal with, or perhaps an individual and their family. But these changes in the way people interact with their environment, including their community, can have an effect on everyone. “Toxic stress exposure impacts the brain’s ability to cope with common life situations. If a person, particularly a child, cannot predict where, when, or how much stress they will experience, their brains and bodies become hardwired to react more quickly and with a heightened fight, flight, or freeze response. That person may have trouble focusing on school or work, say or do things impulsively, lose their temper easily, or act uninterested
or disconnected from others. The difficulty in regulating caused by toxic stress can have a negative effect on school performance and personal relationships and even result in physical illness and pain.

The impact of toxic stress on an individual may have even greater consequences. Research shows that the effects of toxic stress can be transferred intergenerationally, meaning that children and even grandchildren of a person who experienced toxic stress may exhibit physical or emotional symptoms.”

Resilience and Prevention

So, how can we “lift” one another up? “Faith communities can be excellent sources of support for those who have experienced toxic stress. Resilience, or the ability to thrive, adapt, and cope despite adversity, depends greatly on caring relationships and community. Research shows that communities working together to build relationships and model resiliency have lower rates of childhood trauma and health problems in the next generation. By providing support and fostering community, faith communities can minimize or eliminate children’s exposure to toxic stress, thereby breaking the intergenerational passage of trauma. In addition, faith communities can help build resilience in those who have been exposed to toxic stress or are currently going through stressful events. Research shows that faith groups are often central to developing community identity and connection and are increasingly recognized to be crucial assets to individuals and communities under stress.”


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