Preventing Child Abuse by Promoting Health

The program is only open to first-time mothers for two reasons: Because they are more receptive to the counseling provided, and because the skills a young woman learns during her first pregnancy and the early years of child rearing carry over to subsequent children, Hartzler said.

Mothers are also counseled in family planning, so that they don't burden themselves with multiple children before they are ready emotionally and financially.

Though she said that many of the young women she has counseled refer their friends to the program, when they start they often have a long way to go before they will become good parents.

Many smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, smoke pot and do other drugs, she said. Some have histories of psychiatric problems, either personally or in their families, many have unsupportive families and some are even homeless, she said.

On top of those kinds of issues, many are simply emotionally unprepared to have a child and do not understand the reality of what it means to care for an infant day in and day out.

"When the baby is born they love it," Hartzler said. "They're the center of attention, everyone is coming to see them and they love it, but then when that wears off they tend to lose interest. The baby's crying, needs to be fed, needs to be changed, and that can be frustrating."

Young mothers are counseled to connect with their babies by breast-feeding, by reading to them and playing with them instead of "plopping them down in front of the TV."

"That way, the children are ready for school," she said. "The children have fewer behavior problems."

And happier children make happier parents, and together that should make for less child abuse.

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