This year during Child Abuse Prevention Month, we’re focusing on three concrete actions that people can do to help prevent child abuse and neglect. Those actions are to:
- Mentor a child or parent
- Advocate for family friendly policies, and
- Donate time or money to a child serving agency.
But why did we choose to focus on these actions? The explanation comes from our social norms research.
What are Social Norms?
Social norms research is an emerging and critically important field of study for the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Social norms research aims to find gaps between actual norms – how people truly think, believe and act – vs. perceived norms – what people assume about how people think, believe and act. By studying actual and perceived norms, we can get a better picture of how people feel about a certain topic and what the barriers to better understanding or action might be.
Social Norms around Mentoring, Advocating or Donating
The goal of social norms research is to align norms alongside behavior that promotes health. For child abuse and neglect prevention, this means we can find out what attitudes people have towards prevention, what attitudes they believe others have towards prevention, and how we can show people that it’s normal to be involved in prevention.
In concert with social norms experts from The Montana Institute, we have commissioned research into attitudes for prevention and have learned two major takeaways. First, very few Americans (27%) report being involved with child abuse prevention. However – and here is the gap – a vast majority of Americans report being engaged in actions that do actively help prevent child abuse and neglect.
For example, mentoring children and parents helps strengthen relationships and reduce social isolation in parents. These two factors that are key to healthy development and abuse prevention. Most Americans are involved in mentoring already, with 56% of our survey respondents reporting being a mentor. A further 70% reported volunteering with children directly, another form of mentorship.
Another example would be taking the time to advocate for family friendly policies with your legislators, businesses, or schools. Whether you’re advocating for a bill that will provide funding to child development programs or working with your school’s PTA to get a new sexual abuse prevention curriculum put into place, you’re helping to prevent abuse and neglect. Even more respondents in our survey reported being engaged as an advocate, with more than 77% coming in saying they have advocated on behalf of children and families. In the same way, 90% of respondents reported donating time or money to youth-serving organizations.
The Gap for Prevention
What this research tells us is very heartening from a prevention standpoint because we’re learning that more Americans are already engaged than we would have thought. Our task is now to better connect these actions back to prevention. By doing so, not only can we help every day Americans better understand what prevention is, but we can show them how they are already playing a role and encourage others who may not already be involved to join the team! By helping the public understand that it is normal to be involved in child abuse and neglect prevention, we can increase support for prevention services and programs.
Next week on the blog we’ll go into more detail on mentorship and how mentors can increase the protective factors present in a community and help promote healthy child development.