I distinctly remember carrying my young wife over the threshold of our house for a second time. But instead of feeling that post-honeymoon joy and fresh optimism, I was filled with fear and uncertainty.
Just a few weeks earlier the doctor had confirmed that Janet was pregnant and, until that night, excitement had filled every corner of our lives. I don't fully understand it, but just knowing a life is growing within the womb creates a bond of love for the child. Now it appeared our child was in danger. We arrived at the emergency room and they quickly wheeled my wife down a corridor. I was left in the waiting room where I prayed for my wife and the protection of our unborn child.
Within minutes my prayer was interrupted by a young couple, rushing into the emergency room with an unresponsive toddler. As I watched the scene unfold, I feared the worst – that the injuries that brought the child through the doors were the result of abuse by one or both of his parents. Those fears were later confirmed with the arrival of police. As I waited for news about my wife and child, I continued to pray, now also asking God to protect the life of two children, my own child and that of the unresponsive toddler. In that moment, it seemed as though life was uncertain for both of them.
My wife and I suffered a miscarriage that night and the loss was devastating. But thankfully that’s not the end of our family’s story. God’s care for us was evident in the days and years to come. We were blessed with two healthy children who have given us three beautiful grandchildren. On occasion, I still think of that toddler and wonder what became of him. Did he survive his childhood? If so, did he pass on the abuse he received to his own children? Statistics show that children who are abused or neglected have a 30 percent chance of abusing or neglecting their own children.
So how can we stop this cycle of abuse and neglect? We can start by acknowledging the gravity of this issue.
Consider that, on average, four children die every day in our nation as a result of abuse and neglect – the vast majority at the hands of their own parents. Child abuse and neglect in the United States isn’t just a problem in some communities, it’s a pandemic that reaches into every corner of our nation, even into our churches.
But there is good news! There are proven prevention strategies that can cut child abuse and neglect in half. Consider the impressive results among families participating in a high-quality home visiting program:
- Abuse and neglect were cut nearly in half,
- The affected children’s involvement in later crime was cut by more than half,
- The children’s fathers were more involved with their families, and
- The mothers were up to a third less likely to be dependent on welfare.
Evidence-based voluntary home visiting programs can help provide support and resources to parents of young children before serious problems occur. But there is more to be done and everyone has a role to play.
Some people become foster or adoptive parents, others mentor children or volunteer with a local ministry that serves at-risk children. While these roles may not be for everyone, there are several things we all can do: We can certainly pray. Also, we can speak out on child abuse by calling on policymakers to increase support for proven prevention strategies shown to cut abuse and neglect in half.
Thankfully, we serve the God that does not forget the helpless and we each have the privilege of approaching God with confidence on behalf of helpless children. This year, as a part of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, April 28 has been set aside as Blue Sunday, a day of prayer for the victims of child abuse and neglect and those who rescue them.
I may not know what became of the unresponsive toddler that I prayed for so many years ago, but I know at that time there was nothing greater I could have done. On April 28 you have the opportunity to do the same.
Tom Pearce is the national director of Shepherding the Next Generation, a nonprofit organization of more than 250 evangelical pastors and ministry leaders who are committed to the development of strong and healthy American families.
To learn more about Blue Sunday, visit www.joinbluesunday.org.
Publication date: April 25, 2013