A major factor among many in family violence is a lack of nurturing in childhood leading in turn to neglect of children compounded by poverty and lack of access to education and nourishment.
American child abuse prevention experts Randell and Sandra Alexander toured New Zealand in February talking to business leaders, politicians and health professionals about preventing child abuse and encouraging business leaders in particular to work collaboratively with their communities to create, safe, stable and nurturing environments.
A key part of their message was one of the largest studies ever conducted to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and long-term health and wellbeing, the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE).
The study showed that the more adverse childhood experiences a person had, the more likely it was they would miss work, work at lower productivity or experience work related injury.
The ACE study of 17,000 participants with an average age of 57 found that about half the adult workforce in the US do not have the basic education and communication skills to acquire and advance in jobs and that increasingly costly negative outcomes included dropping out of school, substance abuse, crime, domestic violence in the workplace.
‘Child abuse and other kinds of bad experiences can impact our lifelong health and wellbeing, our brain health and how our brain develops, educational achievement, intellectual development and even workforce readiness and productivity,’ said Sandra Alexander who has more than 40 years experience in the field.
‘It’s that public health burden, the impact on all the different things that makes this such a priority. It increases the use of health and mental health services, the justice services, other kinds of remedial services, all of which have a huge economical impact as well as a human impact.
‘So we recognise that child abuse and adverse childhood experiences are a public health issue. It’s also the public’s health issue. So that means everybody in the community owns the problem, too.’Randell and Sandra highlighted some of the long-term effects that adverse childhood experiences have on business in terms of productivity, absenteeism, employment and work-related injuries.
The research outlined the role businesses could play in changing the way we treat children in our society and helping create a society which works to prevent child abuse and the ongoing lifelong repercussions.
Meanwhile, New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services chief executive Trevor McGlinchey says income poverty has long been identified as a high stressor on family relationships.
Writing in March in the Journal of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner ‘Faiths Against Violence: taking a stand’ he said inadequate income to afford basic living expenses (food, housing, health, fuel, transport) causes real anxiety.
‘It also impinges on the ability of families to participate in the social and educational activities many other families take for granted.
This social exclusion adds to the vulnerability of families. Social justice through our social services is at the core of robust and resilient communities and wider society.
Two registered psychotherapists/counsellors at Catholic Social Services in Auckland have moved into South Auckland to be closer to where the pastoral needs are greatest.
Cabrini Makasiale and Ruth Mather are working in the parish of St John the Evangelist, Otara and, for more than a year, they have run programmes to help people with:
- Managing strong emotions
- Stopping family violence – both Cabrini and Ruth are trained in running Stopping Violence Programmes, and
- Positive parenting which aims to build skills in families that help parents to parent safely and with awareness of child developmental needs and their roles as parents. Cabrini has developed this programme especially for Pacific Island people.
It deals with the internal childhood patterns of the parents and works towards repairing these patterns so that they can parent their children differently.
Cabrini says they have spread the word through the community leaders, posted notices in the parish newsletters and sent out pamphlets. People have come when they are ready to work on the difficulties they have in these areas.
With each group they present six weekly two-hour sessions and then review the programme.
Cabrini says this has been a good start but with just two therapists, it has been slow.
‘In five years we are hoping to be working with other parishes in this way.’ Their website says, ‘We are about to begin a pilot training programme with a small group of leaders from the Mangere East parish to train these as leaders able to provide a course in Managing Strong Emotions in their communities, with support from us.’
As the NZCCSS says, ‘Aroha, tētahi ki tētahi – let us take care of each other.’