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August/September 2020Vol. 21, No. 6We Can and Must Do Better Than Normal

Written by Melissa T. Merrick, president and chief executive officer, Prevent Child Abuse America

The stress of this moment is palpable. As we exercise our first amendment rights during the time of an unprecedented global pandemic, things we long considered "normal" are nearly 5-month-old faint memories. The only thing we seem to be able to count on for certain these days is the extreme uncertainty of it all! We know, unfortunately, that much of this uncertainty comes in the form of diminishing wages and job security; housing and food instability; and, of course, the fear and anxiety of going out in public amid an (un)masked citizenry while purportedly being protected and served by systems that were founded on racism and oppression. Indeed, the stress of this moment is palpable, and any one of us can totally unravel at any moment.

But, we as a nation can and must do better than normal for children and families in the response and recovery phase of this current pandemic and into the future. To truly achieve a world where all children grow up happy, healthy, and prepared to succeed and thrive, we must focus on a comprehensive public health approach, proactively creating the conditions for well-being, productivity, and prosperity. We must actively dismantle the root causes of stress and anxiety that can lead to child abuse, neglect, and other adversity and trauma. And while all parents and caregivers are currently experiencing profound stressors that increase risks for children, research consistently highlights the disproportionate impacts of adversity within underresourced communities and communities of color because far too many of our policies and systems have been designed to produce, rather than eliminate, such disparities. 

One step on the road to a better normal is to strengthen and support families before they find themselves in crisis. By providing concrete and economic supports for families through policies like tax credits, paid leave, and child care subsidies, parental stress is decreased and families and communities are strengthened and better equipped to recover and be resilient in the aftermath of even a sustained stressor, and our children are protected from harm. Creating the conditions for health and health equity requires a multisystem, multisector approach that is fundamentally different from the way we normally do business. A coming together across child welfare, health, philanthropy, and other sectors can model at the national level what we know has been increasingly effective in communities for prevention and will necessarily create more positive outcomes for children, families, and communities. 

We know that we can do better and that most Americans want every child to grow up feeling secure. And many are calling—begging—for a new normal, for a child and family well-being system that recognizes that we all have a role to play in ensuring that children and families thrive and that we need systems and stakeholders in communities that partner in purpose to keep families strong and children safe in their own families. A new normal means that every voice is heard and integrated into our collective prevention approach and every sector and every discipline join in this transformation. By definition, a new normal requires moving away from what is typical, standard, and commonplace.  We must emerge from this moment steadfast in our need for a more compassionate, collective approach to prevention.

The stress of this moment is palpable, indeed, but to return to normal would be a great disservice and disappointment to our children, families, and future.