Preventing Child Abuse by Promoting Health

ByABC News
August 12, 2004, 2:05 PM

Sept. 27, 2004 -- When Stacy Hartzler visits a pregnant teenage girl to counsel her about her health and how to care for her child, she thinks of what she is doing as promoting healthy families, but she is also on the front line of the fight to end child abuse.

Hartzler left a position as the director of neurology and orthopedics at an Arizona hospital more than three years ago to join the Best Babies Initiative in Denver, one of a growing number of programs based on the Nurse-Family Partnership.

She visits young unwed women and teenagers in their homes and offers counseling on their own health, infant health, parenting skills and family planning as well as more general issues such as continuing education and job hunting.

The idea that training young women in healthy parenting skills could be the best way to prevent most cases of child abuse and neglect is not new, but at a time when far-too-frequent horror stories suggest a crisis in the child welfare system, there is growing acceptance that prevention is the key to solving the problem.

That acceptance has come not only from child welfare advocates, who point to the results of studies done over nearly three decades, but also from the federal government.

The Bush administration has recently asked Congress to double the funding provided to states for child abuse and neglect prevention programs, seeking to boost funding to $65 million.

Dr. Wade Horn, the assistant secretary for children and families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said part of what has helped convince him of the role that promoting a young mother's health, parenting, social and job skills can play in cutting down on child abuse is the result of the studies done of the Nurse Family Partnership.

"While it is true there are some parents who abuse kids because they are psychologically disturbed, in the majority of cases it's because of other factors," Horn said. "What the Nurse Family Partnership program does is take care of some of those other factors."