Zachary native Amanda Brunson, the executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Louisiana, shared information and statistics with Zachary Rotarians April 21 about the prevention of child abuse and neglect in an effort to raise awareness during April’s Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“With 80 percent of brain growth happening in the first three years of life, it is crucial that every child has a safe and nurturing environment to grow up in,” Brunson said. “Children who grow up in a secure and supportive environment are more likely to become responsible productive members of society.”

Louisiana ranks 47th in the nation in overall child well-being, she said, and in 2013, about 10,119 of Louisiana’s 1.1 million children were reported as victims of child maltreatment, with 76 percent of those children being first-time victims.

Brunson said considering Louisiana’s average elementary class has 19 children, the number of victims in 2013 alone could fill more than 530 classrooms. In the 2013 federal fiscal year, Louisiana recorded 43 fatalities attributed to child abuse and neglect, the equivalent of two elementary school classrooms.

“Those numbers are unacceptable,” said Brunson. “Imagine if we lost that many to a disease or a ride at Disney; people would be outraged.”

According to Brunson, extensive and ongoing medical research has shown that traumatic events during childhood can contribute to physical and mental health problems later in life.

Called Adverse Childhood Experiences, ACEs can include abuse, neglect and exposure to substance abuse or violence, depression, cancer, obesity, suicide, alcoholism and other diseases.

Brunson said children who experience trauma are at a greater risk of emotional, cognitive, physical and behavioral challenges throughout life, and as a result, a wide range of health and social outcomes are common, including being five times as likely to be diagnosed with clinical depression, four times as likely to become a smoker and seven times as likely to become an alcoholic.

“All of this leads to negative effects on society, such as higher health care costs, incarceration rates, loss of work time and poorer mental health,” Brunson said. Prevent Child Abuse Louisiana offers a 10-question survey that was developed by researchers that sheds light on how our past influences our present lives. The survey measures ACEs, takes only a few seconds, and no names are required.

According to pcal.org, many who have taken the survey have expressed a sense of comfort in realizing that certain childhood experiences helped shape the person they are today.

Brunson said PCAL does not handle intervention when it comes to child abuse and neglect nor does it offer treatment.

The organization is strictly about prevention and offers plenty of resources in terms of parenting assistance.

One program that has the most potential for positive impact is Kidline (1-800-CHILDREN), a parent help line that offers free crisis intervention, support, parenting information and referrals to community resources within the state. All calls are anonymous and confidential.

Additional ways a person can prevent abuse and neglect are: make children a priority; be a nurturing parent; help yourself or a relative, friend or neighbor; be vocal and report suspected abuse and neglect; learn the signs and symptoms of child abuse, paying attention to what children around you say and do; and support prevention through policies, legislation and education.

To learn more about how to prevent child abuse and neglect, for parenting help or to donate, visit pcal.org or call (225) 925-9520.