Parker Publishes Column: Prevention of Child Maltreatment Begins with Education

February 15, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Published: Sunday, February 13, 2011 at 3:15 a.m.

Prevention of Child Maltreatment Begins with Education

A recent article published in the Herald-Journal on Jan. 18 created much debate on corporal punishment of children. Regardless of the position held on this divisive topic, it necessitates directing our attention to child safety in Spartanburg. Child maltreatment is a public health epidemic with tremendous cost to the child and to society.

The debate of how to create better behaving children in our schools and at home is important, but to look at the problem with a narrow lens that focuses on application of consequences for bad behavior without investigating and treating the core of the problem is like putting a Band-Aid on a severed artery. A harsh reality is that many of the children who are disruptive in the schools are victims of maltreatment at home. The misbehavior may be a signal that something harmful is going on in that child’s life that needs addressing, and tragically many of these pleas for help go without recognition or unreported.

Child maltreatment not only includes physical and sexual abuse but also emotional abuse and failure to meet the basic needs of the child. Spartanburg County has high rates of all forms of maltreatment, and the impact on the child and the community has far-reaching consequences. Many of our serious and costly youth problems, such as teen pregnancy, juvenile crime, school failure and substance abuse are preceded by child abuse and neglect.

Furthermore, child abuse and neglect can disrupt early brain development, leading to increased risk of lifelong emotional and physical problems. If we direct our efforts to education and prevention of child maltreatment, then we can effectively eliminate many of these later developing problems. All children deserve to be brought up in safe environments with their basic needs met.

According to the most recent statistics reported by The Children’s Defense Fund (2011), in South Carolina a child is abused or neglected every 41 minutes, a child dies before his or her first birthday every 16 hours, and a child or teen is killed by gunfire every six days.

In Spartanburg County, the 2010 child case statistics, reported by the 7th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, indicate that 132 warrants were served for various forms of child maltreatment. This resulted in 88 defendants, with 68 convicted of some form of child maltreatment. In 2010, the Children’s Advocacy Center served 371 children from Spartanburg County, of which 296 were alleged victims of sexual abuse. These are unacceptable numbers, but the critical question is: How many more incidents occurred that were never reported?

Child maltreatment can occur in all family structures and socioeconomic groups. However, children who are living in highly stressful environments due to factors such as domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, poverty and other serious stressors are at greatest risk of harm. Spartanburg ranks high on all of these indicators.

Additionally, we have very low educational attainment in Spartanburg County, with 21 percent of our adults not having a high school education and only 20 percent of adult residents having a four-year college degree. Communities with low education have higher rates of unemployment, poverty and violence. These factors can contribute to a culture where child abuse in the form of neglect, school absenteeism and harsh punishment is normative.

Imagine a community where all children are wanted and nurtured in a safe environment with their physical, emotional and educational needs met. It can happen in Spartanburg.

To this end, the University of South Carolina Upstate has launched a new child advocacy initiative. We established a minor in child advocacy studies that will significantly benefit many USC Upstate students and the Spartanburg community as a whole. The minor is based on a nationally recognized model from the National Child Protection Training Center in Winona, Minn. The major goal of this initiative is to end child maltreatment through education. A Center for Child Advocacy Studies has been established in the College of Arts and Sciences to provide community awareness and education and to develop an advanced studies certificate in this critical area.

On March 17, the Center for Child Advocacy Studies will host the second annual conference on ending child abuse through advocacy and education. The program, featuring national and regional experts, is geared to a wide-ranging audience of professionals, educators, students, community members and faith-based organizations. This one-day conference will offer up to six continuing education credits for a wide range of professionals. Please go to for additional information and registration, or call Jennifer Parker at 864-503-5761.

Prevention begins with education!

Jennifer S. Parker is a University of South Carolina Upstate professor and director of the Center for Child Advocacy Studies.