National Child Abuse Prevention Month was first recognized through a proclamation issued by President Ronald Reagan on April 4, 1983. In that proclamation, President Reagan called upon the public to take action to prevent, rather than to remedy, the abuse, mistreatment and neglect of children, asserting that “action taken after cruelty has occurred is often too late.” He invited governors, other political and public leaders, and those involved in privately organized groups to join together in efforts to increase vigilance against harm toward children and to protect the future of the United States.
President Reagan’s 1983 proclamation was built upon steps the United States government had already been taking to increase awareness, prevention, and treatment of child abuse and neglect nationwide. In 1974, President Richard Nixon signed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, the first federal child protection legislation enacted in the United States. CAPTA provided funding to state programs designed to combat child abuse, and sent a message to the nation that the government was issuing a nationwide response to this problem. CAPTA has continued into the present day in supporting state efforts in this regard. A number of additional national funding efforts followed, and many laws, programs, and agencies have arisen in the years since the initial passage of CAPTA that have further developed and strengthened efforts to prevent and address child abuse and neglect in all of its devastating forms all over the country.
The United States has come a long way in recognizing the severity of child abuse and neglect, and preventing abuse and protecting children, but there is always more that can and must be done. There are many different ways to get involved in protecting children. Helping can be as simple as paying attention to children you encounter and reporting suspected abuse or neglect, donating your time or money to causes that protect children, or becoming an advocate in a legal or political forum. You can also educate yourself on youth protection and recognizing the signs of abuse and neglect, and what steps should be taken if you think a child may be suffering. You can also consider becoming a mentor or volunteering for programs that help children, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters or the YMCA. Voice your thoughts to your state and federal representatives in support of laws that protect children and their rights, and that provide funding to help children who have been harmed. Regardless of differences in political or social opinions, we can all agree children deserve to be loved, protected, and kept safe, and April is a month that reminds us how important it is to focus on that goal.