Today, my first day at Prevent Child Abuse America, marks the beginning of a new chapter in my professional life—one that’s accompanied by great excitement, as well as deliberate reflection and anticipation. As the nation’s oldest nonprofit committed to the primary prevention of child abuse and neglect, PCA America enjoys a rich history and is widely recognized for its passionate, dedicated staff and a diverse and influential network of collaborators and partners nationwide. Indeed, I have had the good fortune to visit and witness firsthand the extraordinary work happening at many PCA state chapters and Healthy Families America sites. I look forward to continuing to explore how we can create and sustain the conditions for strong, thriving families and communities and ensure all children grow up in safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments.
Is this a daunting task? Yes. Children continue to be separated from their parents at alarming rates in the child welfare system and at our borders, corporal punishment is still allowed in public schools in more than a dozen states, and newspaper headlines persistently remind us of the startling prevalence of child sexual abuse in youth serving organizations, houses of worship, and in homes.
Is it an insurmountable task? Absolutely not! The good news is we already possess many of the tools and strategies needed to effectively prevent child abuse and neglect from occurring in the first place—and we continue to build the evidence base for innovative and novel solutions every day. Collaboratively, we can meaningfully impact the lives of children, families, and entire communities through comprehensive approaches, including:
- Expanding home visiting to the millions of families who could benefit from it;
- Building political will for efforts that strengthen household financial security, thereby reducing parental stress and depression; and
- Shifting norms from blaming parents to supporting them and equipping them with techniques that engender positive relationships.
Of course this will require cultivating and nurturing cross-sector partnerships with businesses, philanthropies, the media, and others. It will require integrating the primary prevention of child abuse and neglect into other efforts to address important health issues of the day, such as opioid overdose and suicide. And it will require a public health approach to prevention—one in which we don’t only call for trauma-informed services and responses, but also trauma-informed systems and contexts. In so doing, we can assure brighter futures for our children and their children, too.
I’m ready, PCA America is ready…let’s get to work!
Dr. Melissa Merrick
President & CEO