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The HOPE – Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences – framework adds insights to the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect. This link between HOPE and child abuse and neglect prevention was celebrated last month at a national convening of EndCAN. The goal of the one day meeting of national experts and stakeholders was to create a communications plan to decrease child abuse and neglect. The group broadly endorsed the importance of positive childhood experiences. The HOPE framework will be an integral part of the EndCAN campaign.

Christina Bethell and I, HOPE Director Dr. Sege, received the 2022 Richard Krugman award for our work identifying the importance of positive childhood experiences. We accepted this award together at an informal dinner. When citing our work, Dr. Krugman commented that Dr. Bethell and I had established the importance of positive childhood experiences and opened the field of adverse child experiences and trauma informed care to include positive, as well as adverse, childhood experiences.

I was honored to be there with Dr. Bethel who, along with her colleagues, led the statistical analysis of the first HOPE survey, which had been included in the 2015 Wisconsin Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). She has spent her career developing a scientific understanding of the conditions of childhood that promote flourishing. Dr. Bethell points out that families want their children not just to survive, but actually to flourish. She also developed the National Survey of Children’s Health, and it is one of the leading sources of data about the factors that influence child development in the United States. We are fortunate to have her as an advisor to the HOPE National Resource Center as we work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to analyze data from four other states.

EndCAN is a unique organization devoted to the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Its leaders, and many of its members, have had personal lived experience with child abuse and neglect. They provide a voice and perspective that is too often missing in policy circles. Child welfare policies often labels parenting as simply either good or bad and fail to recognize that even deeply troubled families can have positive experiences. Recognition of these experiences might change decision-making, which is a goal of many survivors of child abuse and neglect. For an idea of EndCAN’s perspective on child abuse, view Louder Than Silence or We Are All Survivors.

For example, one speaker commented that, although she had been beaten by one parent, she found love and support in her family. Her biggest fear was being taken from that loving, supportive family. That fear came true, and her brief placement in foster care really illustrates the deficit focus of our current child welfare system. The HOPE framework resonated with her, as her own lived experience included both love and abuse, and the decisions made about her failed to consider this complexity.

My personal take home lesson from this convening was that HOPE, and the importance of positive childhood experiences, has become an integral part of discussions of policy and communications. This even holds true in fields that deal with the most difficult and troubling aspects of childhood experiences. In the coming year, the HOPE National Resource Center will broaden our focus to include support for the child welfare system, including both essential workers and the judiciary system.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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