According to the Child Maltreatment 2017 report prepared by the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, 2.3 percent of children experienced psychological or emotional maltreatment in 2017. This number underestimates the true scope of the problem, as emotional abuse is more difficult to identify than other types of child abuse.
Children from all backgrounds can be at risk of emotional abuse, especially when a family is experiencing multiple life stressors, such as a family history of abuse or neglect, health problems, marital conflict, or domestic or community violence—and financial stressors such as unemployment, poverty and homelessness. All of these may reduce a parent’s capacity to cope effectively with the typical day-to-day stresses of raising children.
Research has shown, however, that the good can outweigh the bad, and that we can mitigate or eliminate the risk of emotional abuse by developing strong protective factors in parents and families.
The Strengthening Families™ Protective Factors Framework distills extensive research into a core set of five protective factors that everyone can understand and recognize in their own lives. These protective factors work as safeguards that can help parents find resources or supports and encourage coping strategies that allow them to parent effectively, even under difficult circumstances.
Parental resilience is a protective factor that can help one manage stress when faced with challenges, adversity or trauma. Parents who can cope with the stresses of everyday life, as well an occasional crisis, have resilience. They have the flexibility and inner strength necessary to bounce back when things are not going well.
Social connections can also provide emotional support for a family. Parents with a social network of emotionally supportive friends, family and neighbors often find that it is easier to care for their children and themselves. On the other hand, parents who are isolated, with few social connections, are at higher risk for child abuse and/or neglect.
Access to concrete supports for the entire family may also help prevent the unintended emotional abuse or neglect that sometimes occurs when parents are unable to provide for their children. Families who can meet their own basic needs and who know how to access essential services such as childcare, health care, and mental health services are better able to ensure the safety and well-being of their children.
It is also important for parents to understand child development and parenting strategies that support physical, cognitive, language and social and emotional development. Children thrive emotionally when parents provide respectful communication and listening, consistent rules and expectations, and safe opportunities that promote independence. Conversely, delayed social-emotional development may obstruct healthy relationships.
When multiple protective factors are present, a family is better able to successfully navigate difficult situations and moderate the risk of emotional and other types of abuse or neglect.
Within the Colorado Department of Human Services, the Office of Early Childhood has established the Strengthening Families Network to increase awareness and encourage efforts to embed the Strengthening Families™ Protective Factors Framework in family support practice across Colorado.
Learn more about how this framework is being implemented throughout the state here.