Aiken, South Carolina is generally bounded on the west side by Warrenville and Graniteville, northwest by Vaucluse, north by Interstate 20, east by Montmorenci, and south by New Ellenton. According to the United States Census Bureau’s 2021 data, Aiken has a total population of 31,895 people (U.S. Census Bureau, n.d.). Out of the total population, 26.1% are 65 years and older, 18.5% are under 18, and 6.3% are younger than five years old. There are more women than men in this population, at 53.5%. Regarding race, 61.5% are Caucasian, 33.3% are Black or African American, 2.3% are Hispanic or Latino, 1.8% are Asian, 0.2% are American Indian or Alaska Native, and 0.1% are Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander (U.S. Census Bureau, n.d.).
Aiken, South Carolina is known as one of the South’s best small suburban towns. This town takes great pride in its community and values. Downtown Aiken showcases Aiken’s values on streetlights and traffic lights, stating that gratitude, responsibility, kindness, generosity, courage, patience, wonder, and creativity is what they believe in. Aiken is known for being a peaceful community for retirement. It is also known for its equestrian community. The purpose of this community assessment is to identify Aiken’s strengths and weaknesses to generate solutions through a windshield survey, interviews, observations, and analysis of secondary sources.
Assessment of Community
The area surveyed was a portion of Downtown Aiken. The boundaries of this assessment were physical roads. The lower left border was the intersection of Richland Avenue and Waterloo Street. The lower right border was the intersection of Richland Avenue and Union Street Northeast. The top right border was the intersection of Union Street Northeast and Hampton Avenue. Lastly, the top left border was the intersection of Hampton Avenue and Greenville Street Northwest. All streets within the borders were surveyed.
In Downtown Aiken, there are varied conditions, ages, and architecture of homes, with most being very old. Many homes are in poor condition, with some having doors broken off, boarded windows, garbage in the yards, homes overtaken by ivy, and staining along the housing exterior. The portion of Downtown surveyed contains multiple service centers, including clinics, dentists, pharmacies, optometrists, home health services, financial advisors, playgrounds, a blessing box, and more. Important health-related businesses include the Tri-Development Center for Disabilities, Coalition for Suicide Prevention, and Children’s Place.
An interview was conducted with Maryann Burgess, director of the Child Advocacy Center (CAC). One major challenge Burgess mentioned was a lack of awareness about child abuse in the community and prevention through mental health services for those who need it (M. Burgess, personal communication, September 20, 2022). She said therapy and mental health is important in preventing violence in the community, including violence towards children and adolescents. According to Burgess, abuse is often more visible in families of lower socioeconomic status due to the stress of financial constraints, insufficient food, and more difficult living conditions. However, abuse is still prevalent in wealthy families—they can just hide it better (M. Burgess, personal communication, September 20, 2022).
Another interview was conducted with Peggy Ford, Executive Director of Children’s Place. A major challenge she saw in the community is child abuse stemming from the children’s and their parents’ adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), which contribute to physical and mental health problems. Ford stated that the most prominent ACEs related to their clients’ mental health conditions are isolation, lack of connection to the community, and low socioeconomic status (P. Ford, personal communication, September 23, 2022). Ford stated that there is a lack of mental health resources in the area and high instances of stigma related to mental health (P. Ford, personal communication, September 23, 2022).
Statistics and Data
Statistics and data gathered are related to children and adolescents as a vulnerable population and the challenges affecting them. According to the U.S. Census Bureau 2021 data, 6.3% of Aiken’s population are children under five years, and 18.5% are children and adolescents under 18 years (U.S. Census Bureau, n.d.). The percentage of children in poverty is 18%, children in single-parent households are 29%, and uninsured children are 6%. The child mortality rate is 60 per 100,000, and the infant mortality rate is seven per 1,000 live births. The percentage of frequent mental distress is 15%, which is measured by the percentage of adults reporting 14 or more poor mental health days per month. The number of violent crimes is 453 per 100,000, and the number of injury deaths is 102 per 100,000 (County Health Rankings, n.d.).
Burgess provided a CAC report through email containing demographics and statistics of abuse. The CAC has seen 541 children this year from January 1 to September 20. Out of those children, 212 were served between ages seven and 12, 181 were between 13 and 18, and 148 were from zero to six. The type of abuse most often reported was sexual abuse at 326, with physical abuse being second at 155. The current documented records of children’s relationship to the alleged offender were most often parents at 99, and the second was another known person at 51. Most children served were Caucasian at 344, followed by Black/African American at 137. Burgess said, “I believe that number is low, but that is not necessarily a good thing because there is far more child abuse in the community than we actually get at this facility.” She said they believe that if more people reported the abuse to CAC, the number of cases would probably be quadrupled (M. Burgess, personal communication, September 20, 2022).
Forms of verbal and physical child abuse were observed in Aiken at Odell Weeks Park, Western Carolina State Fairgrounds, and Walmart. At Odell Weeks Park, a parent screamed and cursed at their child after they fell off the swings saying their child was too clumsy to do anything right. At the fairgrounds, a parent slapped their child for crying and threatened to leave them. However, a man intervened, and the family left the area. At Walmart, two incidences of physical abuse were noted. A child wanted to go to the toy aisle, and the mother said no. The child proceeded to the toy aisle, and the mother harshly pulled her away by her hair. There was another incident where a father spanked their child because they were misbehaving, but the spanks were so loud that they drew the attention of multiple people in the store. However, no one intervened.
Analysis of Data
Comparison of Statistics
Important statistics related to child abuse come from the National Children’s Association’s (NCA) national and state statistics compared with Aiken CAC statistics. Aiken CAC statistics were provided through email from Burgess and were listed previously. NCA’s national statistics from January to June 2022 state that a total of 188,386 children were served, with most being females, at 123,304. Most children served were between the ages of seven to 12 years. Parents were reported as the most common alleged offender at 50,508, and the most common age of the alleged offender was 18 years and older. The most common type of abuse reported was sexual abuse at 124,737. Caucasian children were more frequently seen at 94,063 (Children’s Advocacy Center, 2022).
NAC’s reports from South Carolina between January to June 2022 state that they have served 3,660 children, with most being females at 2,264 and Caucasians at 1,727. The most common age was between seven and 12, at 1,519. Parents were the most seen alleged offenders state-wise as well, at 1,259. The alleged offender was often 18 years and older, at 1,548. The most reported type of abuse was sexual abuse at 1,785 (Children’s Advocacy Center, 2022). Regarding mental health, the percentage of adults reporting 14 or more poor mental health days in South Carolina is 14%, and Aiken is 15%. The number of deaths from suicide per 100,000 population is 189 in Aiken (County Health Rankings, n.d.).
Globally, up to one billion children between the ages of two and 17 have been victims of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect from 2019 to 2020, which seems to be the trend each year (World Health Organization [WHO], 2020). Approximately three in four children, or 300 million, between the ages of two and four years continuously experience physical and psychological abuse from their caregivers. One in 13 males and one in five females report experiencing sexual abuse from childhood to 17 years of age. An estimated 120 million females under 20 years have experienced forced sexual violence. (WHO, 2022).
Strengths and Weaknesses
Many strengths were noted in Aiken, South Carolina. There is adequate access to physical health resources, such as clinics, pharmacies, optometrists, and dentists for children to receive health care and interventions from mandated reporters. Aiken Regional Medical Center is also nearby for children to receive emergency treatment. Services are also available for children at high risk for abuse and neglect, those with suicidal ideations, smokers, and the disabled. These can be valuable resources for children and families suffering from stress and abuse. Local public safety is available, and there is crime watch in the residential areas to keep the community safe.
Some weaknesses have also been noted. There are inadequate public transportation forms, which makes it difficult for people to travel and can lead to isolation. Downtown Aiken contains no supermarkets for people to purchase fresh produce and healthy food options. Insufficient and unhealthy foods may lead to unhealthier children and families and may also serve as a potential stressor in their lives. Multiple homes and their land are also in poor condition and should be demolished, renovated, or cleaned. Lastly, there is a lack of mental health services for children and families suffering from stress and abuse to receive needed help.
According to the interviews, a problem in the community is child abuse related to the lack of mental health resources and awareness of mental health’s impact on violence and social issues, specifically related to child abuse. The Coalition for Suicide Prevention was the only mental health service noted during the windshield survey. Burgess and Ford believe that if there were less stigma and more awareness and resources related to mental health, violence in the community would decrease. Lack of mental health resources for adults and children negatively influences children because of the generational aspect of child abuse. Receiving help to resolve adverse childhood experiences could change the outcome of violence in the community.
Plan for Intervention
Current and Past Programs
The National Children’s Advocacy Center (NCAC) has implemented successful child abuse programs throughout numerous communities. The NCAC believes prevention services must include individuals, families, and the community (National Children’s Advocacy Center [NCAC], n.d.). In addition to their prevention programs, NCAC’s website contains resources about child abuse, how to report it, local services, and how people can get involved (NCAC, n.d.).
Stop Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) is an NCAC school-based program created to educate children about personal safety. Their Healthy Families Program provides support and education to first-time parents beginning in the mother’s last trimester. Family Support Workers conduct home visits to teach about effective parenting while supporting parents through the process. The Nurturing Program for Parents is a six-week parenting class conducted every two months yearly to educate parents about safe and effective care, practices, and discipline. The Just for Dads Partnership in Parenting program teaches fathers about positive parenting, healthy relationships, and co-parenting. Stewards of Children Training assists anyone interested in protecting children in their community by teaching them how to recognize, react to, and prevent child sexual abuse (National Children’s Advocacy Center, n.d.).
Happy Homes Program
NCAC’s prevention programs can be implemented in various communities, including Aiken. The SCAN program can be implemented in public schools to educate children about abuse, what should be reported, and how to protect themselves. Programs for first-time parents could be highly beneficial because parenting is a challenging job that can become easier with support and education. Parenting classes can teach positive coping mechanisms, how to respond appropriately to children misbehaving, and how to provide proper care. Stewards of Children Training is essential because it can teach adults how to protect children from sexual abuse and advocate for them. This program will be expanded to include other forms of abuse. These interventions can be included in a child abuse prevention plan called Happy Homes Program (HHP) involved with the CAC in Aiken. The CAC, public safety, public schools, and clinics in Aiken are significant community strengths that can be utilized to accomplish HHP’s goals.
HHP aims to reduce child abuse and its effects in Aiken by at least 50% in one year through parent support and education, child support and education, home visits, child advocacy, and education for the public about child abuse and its effects. HHP’s outcomes can be measured by monthly reports from staff within each service to track progress continuously. Findings will be compared quarterly and annually to each other and CAC’s statistics. Child abuse education in public schools will occur twice yearly in all elementary school grades. Programs for first-time parents can be offered to all first-time mothers during prenatal visits and will be available for them as long as possible. Parenting classes can be offered for all families during doctor visits and will be conducted at six-week intervals every two months. Home visits can be conducted monthly for high-risk families and weekly for extremely high-risk families. Information about Stewards for Children Training will be posted throughout the community and on social media to encourage people to participate in reducing child abuse.
HHP outcomes will be measured and evaluated through monthly reports from staff within different service areas. Participants in each program will be asked to report their experiences and progress for the public-school education, first-time parent support group, parenting classes, home visits, child prevention training, and community resources. Child interviews and Child Advocacy Center statistics about child abuse prevalence will also be retrieved. These findings and analyses will be evaluated quarterly and annually to assess HHP’s impact on preventing child abuse in the community.
Children’s Advocacy Center. (2022). CAC statistics. National Children’s Alliance. https://www.nationalchildrensalliance.org/cac-statistics/
County Health Rankings. (n.d.). South Carolina. https://www.countyhealthrankings.org/app/south-carolina/2022/rankings/aiken/county/outcomes/overall/snapshot
National Children’s Advocacy Center. (n.d.). Prevention programs. https://www.nationalcac.org/prevention-programs/
U.S. Census Bureau. (n.d.). QuickFacts: Aiken city, South Carolina. U.S. Department of Commerce. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/aikencitysouthcarolina
World Health Organization. (2020). Violence against children. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-children
World Health Organization. (2022). Child maltreatment. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/child-maltreatment
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