Children need safe and secure environments in which to grow, learn, and develop. This chapter highlights information regarding the safety of Vermont’s youngest children and their families, and ties to the Early Childhood Action Plan’s goals of ensuring all Vermont children have a healthy start and that families and communities play a leading role in children’s well-being.
Creating safe communities for children
The safety and well-being of Vermont’s children is a collective responsibility shared by all of Vermont’s citizens, with families at the center. It is important to ensure parents and caregivers have the necessary skills and supports to raise their children in caring communities and stable home environments. Sometimes, though, children face unsafe situations, including abuse and neglect.
Understanding child abuse and neglect
According to Vermont law, “An ‘abused or neglected child’ is a child whose physical health, psychological growth and development or welfare is harmed or is at substantial risk of harm by the acts or omissions of his or her parent or other person responsible for the child’s welfare.” Child abuse and neglect put children at risk for cognitive delays, emotional difficulties, and challenging behaviors. Health problems (e.g., alcoholism, depression, drug abuse, eating disorders, obesity, high-risk sexual behaviors, smoking, suicide, and certain chronic diseases) are more likely among adults who experienced abuse or neglect as children.
Children in protective custody
According to Vermont’s Department for Children and Families, in 2015, “Vermonters called the state’s Child Protection Line a record 19,434 times to report suspected child abuse or neglect.” When reports of abuse and neglect are received, Vermont’s child protection system is activated to ensure children’s safety and well-being. Trained social workers, acting in concert with public safety officials, respond to and investigate reports.
These reports highlight a range of complex and interlocking factors contributing to child abuse and neglect including substance abuse, domestic violence, economic insecurity, mental health challenges, and lack of affordable housing.
If children are found to be unsafe in their homes, they may be placed in protective custody (removed from their homes) with another family member, a foster family, or another protective care arrangement.
The rate of Vermont children under age 9, and particularly the rate of those under age 3, who at any given time are in protective custody has increased significantly from 2012 to 2014.
Building safe communities
As outlined in the Family & Social Relationships chapter, supportive, nurturing relationships can help mitigate the impacts of adverse childhood experiences. To build and sustain safe and supportive communities for our children, Vermont has several community-based initiatives that support parent resilience and strengthen social connections and community supports to decrease incidents of child maltreatment.
One such program is Safe Kids/Safe Streets, a national 5-1/2-year demonstration project that improves community response to child and adolescent abuse and neglect. Vermont’s Chittenden County is home to one of five Safe Kids/Safe Streets sites in the US that is working to achieve the program’s goal through a variety of community-wide, cross-agency strategies.
Nurse home-visiting is another important resource for families. The Vermont Department of Health’s Maternal and Child Health Division (MCHD) and the Department for Children and Families’ Child Development Division, Children’s Integrated Services (CIS) offer home-visiting programs for Vermont’s youngest children and their families from the prenatal period through age 6. These regular, voluntary visits help prevent child abuse and maltreatment, improve maternal and child health, reduce crime and domestic violence, and improve parent education and self-sufficiency.
In 2016, a range of evidence-based home-visiting programs were offered in areas of Vermont including:
- Nurse Family Partnership (NFP): Offered by MCHD, NFP offers nurse home-visiting for first-time, low income pregnant mothers and their infants. Since its 2012 inception, the program has served 500+ families.
- Maternal Early Childhood Sustained Home Visiting (MECSH): MECSH is a new program offered by CIS providing nurse home-visiting for at-risk pregnant women and their babies. Data on the number of families reached by the program will be available in the future.
- Parents as Teachers® (PAT): PAT is a new program offered by CIS and MCHD that serves families with young children. A trained family support worker based in one of Vermont’s Parent Child Centers provides home-visiting services. Data on the number of families reached by the program will be available in the future.
- Early Head Start: During the 2015–2016 school year, four community-based organizations provided home-visiting services to pregnant women and 268 infants and toddlers from low-income families.
Additional resources designed to support children and families include those discussed in the Family & Social Relationships chapter—Head Start, Strengthening Families, and Children’s Integrated Services—as well as others offered through organizations such as Prevent Child Abuse Vermont and Vermont Parent Child Centers. Together, these resources form a support network to help prevent child maltreatment and to address and mitigate the effects of child maltreatment if/when it occurs.
All content is from BBF’s 2016 publication of How Are Vermont’s Young Children & Families.
Citations, figures and tables available here