Children’s Caucus Looks to Improve Quality of Life for Kids

by State Senator Julie Lassa

 

To commemorate April as National Child Abuse Awareness Month, I will join Representative Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan) and a bipartisan group of legislators to announce the creation of the Legislature’s first Children’s Caucus on April 12.  Through public meetings with expert researchers in such areas as adverse childhood experiences, the economics of investing in early childhood education, and the science of early childhood brain development, the caucus will explore what public policies will make a positive difference in addressing these issues. 

            The goal of the caucus is to research and advocate for promising, evidence-based public policy that will improve the quality of life for all Wisconsin's children.  It’s an important undertaking, because the well-being of children has a tremendous impact on the health of our entire society. 

One aspect of child well-being that researchers are learning more about are adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs.  An ACE can be any traumatic event in a child's life. These might include physical, emotional or sexual abuse; someone in the household with substance abuse issues; a household member who is struggling with mental health issues; or violence between adults in the home. These traumatic events can occur in the lives of children from all backgrounds, and they are much more frequent than many people believe.

A survey of Wisconsin adults conducted by the Centers for Disease Control found that 56 percent of them had suffered at least one of these adverse experiences at some point during their childhoods.  The number of adults who had four or more such experiences during childhood average 14 percent statewide. However, in the six counties of the 24th Senate District, that figure ranges from 15 percent to more than 20 percent.

Part of the multifaceted role of the Children’s Caucus will be to explore the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences, and the alarming effect they can have, not just on the children who are victimized, but on the rest of us as well. The impacts of abuse and neglect are wide ranging and can be long lasting.  There were 4,961 individual child victims of maltreatment in 2014, according to the most recent data available from the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. That same year, 13 children died from substantiated maltreatment.

Many of those who survive will face a lifetime of physical and mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse, tobacco use, diabetes, asthma, and cardiovascular disease. These problems can make it harder to be successful at school and work and can increase the demands on social services and the health care system.  As adults, these child victims are more likely to be unemployed or incarcerated.  And as they bring these stressful challenges into their own parenting, they may become abusive or neglectful parents themselves, passing adverse childhood experiences to the next generation.

National Child Abuse Awareness Month gives us an opportunity to recognize our responsibility as a society to do a better job of preventing the abuse and neglect of children, and to encourage everyone to speak up if they know that a child is being abused.  And we need to remember that we all bear the social and economic cost of abuse; we should think of our investments in helping struggling families as the best way to save ourselves that expense, and to help give every child a chance at growing up to live a healthy and productive life.  Understanding and addressing the many factors that influence child well-being and its impact on individuals and society will be the central mission of the Children’s Caucus.

If you know of a child who is being emotionally, physically or sexually abused, please report what you know to your county's health and human services department or local law enforcement.