Because Childhood Lasts a Lifetime.

Preventing Domestic Violence and Promoting Healthy Families

Statements & Messages

By: Norell Rosado, M.D., Head, Division of Child Abuse Pediatrics, Lurie Children’s Hospital, Melissa Merrick, Ph.D., CEO, Prevent Child Abuse America 

As organizations committed to children’s health and wellness, we are often asked how to prevent child abuse and neglect. With 50 years of prevention experience, research, and boots-on-the-ground prevention programming, Prevent Child Abuse America (PCA America) is poised to partner with Illinois’ top-ranking children’s hospital, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, to stop violence in families and communities that negatively impact children.  We know prevention is possible. This is not just a slogan, but a clarion call to changemakers – lawmakers, businesses, community leaders, and individuals – across our country who care about stopping life-altering abuse, neglect, and family violence. The term ‘domestic violence’ is used to refer to partner violence but the term can also encompass child or elder abuse, or abuse by a member of a household.  

PCA America and Lurie Children’s Hospital have united this month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, to help spread the word that domestic violence is preventable. Many studies have found an association between intimate partner violence (IPV) and child abuse within the same household, imparting devastating effects on children. Yet we know these types of household violence share some of the same risk and protective factors. As studies have shown, gender-inequitable social norms, weak legal sanctions against IPV within marriage, weak community sanctions against IPV, broad social acceptance of violence as a way to resolve conflict, and heightened stress levels can increase the likelihood of family violence.   

Our goal is to put our heads and hearts together to elevate strategies like family-friendly policies that help ease financial stressors for families, and advance and advocate for programming that builds family and community bonds like PCA America’s signature home visiting program, Healthy Families America, and The Chicago Youth Programs Health Clinic at Lurie Children’s. Healthy Families America’s work shows outcomes that strengthen families: Home visiting reduces instances of involvement with child welfare, improves school readiness, and significantly reduces instances of intimate partner violence by more than 30 percent. 

The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that one out of every three U.S. women experience some form of domestic violence – either physical, sexual or psychological – in their lifetime. And for children who witness domestic violence, studies have established an association between IPV against women and negative social and health consequences, including anxiety, depression, poor school performance, and negative health outcomes. Chronic exposure to traumatic stressors like violence is linked with negative consequences in adulthood, from higher rates of depression and heart disease to decreased educational attainment. Current research suggests the more severe the abuse, the greater its impact on physical and mental health.  

Domestic violence affects as many as 10 million children annually and, worse, 41 percent of those children are simultaneously experiencing child abuse. Here in Illinois, where we are both headquartered, data from the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline showed more than 32,000 calls in 2021, an increase of 9% from the year before. In Chicago, there were 121 domestic violence-related shootings, a 64% spike over 2020. Racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities and people living with disabilities reported even higher rates.   

As we think about the conditions that give rise to IPV, we must also explore and address the intersection of other societal issues like racial and gender injustice and inequity, and how the added burden can exacerbate IPV and the daily stress of parenting that all families experience.   

So, how do we address these intertwined public health problems within our own communities? We start by recognizing that prevention happens in partnership. Research suggests a need for comprehensive multi-sectorial long-term collaboration between governments and civil society. Research also strongly demonstrates successful prevention will require policies and programs that address family and community needs BEFORE family violence occurs. Programs and policies must target the social and economic barriers that create inequities.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that providing concrete and economic support to families is one of the most promising prevention strategies for both IPV and child maltreatment, such as extending the Child Tax Credit which has lifted millions of children and families out of poverty. Promoting social and economic empowerment of women and girls is another way to support the economic self-sufficiency of families, reducing family financial stress, and in turn, decreasing risk for violence. This is the reason supporting policies such as paid parental and medical leave are paramount. And all businesses, large and small, can establish family-friendly workplace policies, like providing access to child care to support their employees. Equally important is creating comprehensive service responses to IPV survivors in communities.  

Lastly, we can expand voluntary evidence-based home visiting programs like Healthy Families America. These types of programs partner with new and expecting caregivers to address concrete family needs and provide critical support for families to provide safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments for children. The Jackie Walorski Home Visiting Reauthorization Act, which authorizes and funds these types of programs, is currently before Congress. It is crucial lawmakers expand this program that annually completes almost a million home visits nationwide.  

These tangible, proven solutions to help support parents and families are fully achievable. Prevention is possible. But we must all work in partnership, recognizing that achieving our public health goals requires action across sectors. We know we have hard work ahead of us, but there is a role for everyone in stopping domestic violence and its effects on children and families before it starts.  

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