This blog post was originally posted on The Child Welfare Advocate Blog by WKU Center for Child Welfare Education and Research on April 14, 2021. 

Kentucky was recognized for the third year in a row as having the highest rate of child maltreatment in the nation.[1] That is an overwhelming statistic and a lot to unpack for those of us who work with families and children. So, what does that mean for advocates?

As an advocate, it means two things to me: (1) Our efforts to raise awareness and ensure child abuse and neglect is being reported are likely working; and (2) We still have a long way to go!

As a social worker, I tend to look at issues through a systems perspective. More specifically, from a micro (immediate environment), meso (community), and macro (cultural and social values) perspective. As an advocate you can work in any of those systems. I work within the macro system and focus on big systems that impact kids and families, including policy.[2]  We can thank Urie Bronfenbrenner for the ecological systems theory that helps shape that thinking. I am going to stay focused on the macro, but will briefly touch on the meso and micro below.

The bad news is child abuse and neglect is a complex issue that necessitates intervention on all three systems. The good news is that advocates have multiple opportunities to engage in the issue and effectively play a role in preventing child abuse and neglect.

Policy can play a big role in child abuse prevention and federal policy, such as the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), is the reason we know how many child victims of abuse and neglect every state has annually, among many other things.

Macro (Cultural and Social Values)

Changes to policy and regulation are typical on the macro level and are a reflection of the cultural and social values of our lawmakers and their constituents. Just this year, the Kentucky General Assembly demonstrated a commitment to strengthening families and preventing child abuse and neglect a few different ways.

  1. They committed a $20 million appropriation from the General Fund to support prevention and family preservation services, helping us further implement the Family First Prevention Services Act.
  2. The General Assembly passed and the Governor signed HB 472, HB 8, HB 254, SB 64 and SB 66 which collectively create the opportunity for those profoundly affected by child abuse and neglect to create a path toward healing. These measures ensure survivors can seek accountability from their perpetrators with stronger timelines that align with best practices. They ensure clarity around requirements for background checks for those working or volunteering with young people at youth camps. These measures ensure tougher penalties for those who exploit our youngest and most vulnerable through online communication – which is especially important considering the amount of time we know kids are spending online during the pandemic. By signing these bills, the Governor also ensures that organizations who serve children and adults who have experienced sexual abuse or domestic violence can keep their doors open and continue to provide their critical services.

There is still room for improvement. Kentucky’s most vulnerable families have high risk factors present in their homes that services and treatment can help to diminish. The most prevalent risk factors for victims are substance abuse (54%) and domestic violence (52%). Further, Kentucky has double the national rate of child victims of abuse under age 1, which is the third highest in the nation.[3] Our littlest kids are in need of supports that create protective factors in homes. Every year advocates work to ensure vital programs are protected from budget cuts and investments are made to amplify evidence-based programs.

If you are not sure how to get involved in advocating for policy, you can learn more at Kentucky Youth Advocates website.

Meso (Community)

Community is a real engine for child abuse prevention efforts. Awareness building, education, and building a groundswell of advocates happens on the meso level and can be the liaison between individuals and systems.

If you are interested in becoming part of a strong coalition that’s focus is ending child abuse, you can learn more at Face It: A Movement to End Child Abuse or Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky.

Micro (Individual)

Child abuse prevention is about reducing risk factors and amplifying protective factors. As an individual, there are a lot of ways to engage in this. I will give you two ideas: (1) Reaching out to two parents or caregivers in your life to offer a helping hand or words of encouragement. Parenting can be very isolating and stressful, offering an ear or a hand can make a huge difference; and (2) Share your knowledge by passing it on – you can utilize resources from the Face It Movement.

Child Abuse Prevention Month is in April, but in reality, there are actions we can take every day in every month of the year. On an individual, community, or policy level, we all have a role to play in ensuring kids are safe and families are supported. Some of those activities are easy and impactful, like checking in on a new parent or offering support. Some of those activities require collaboration and connection, like volunteering with a child serving organization or attending an event. And some activities require you to do a little bit of studying up on issues and building a relationship and advocating for change with your local lawmaker.

How will you play a role in child abuse prevention?

[1] U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2021). Child Maltreatment 2019.

[2] Ettekal, A., & Mahoney, J. (2017). Ecological systems theory. In K. Peppler (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of out-of-school learning (Vol. 1, pp. 239-241). SAGE Publications, Inc.,

[3] U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2021). Child Maltreatment 2019.