Many of us can agree on the importance of offering safe and healthy environments for children to grow. It can be hard to believe that California had over 400,000 referrals to Child Welfare in 2019 with 55% being screened[CC1]  in for further investigation. Numbers like that can be discouraging and lead one to thinking, “What can I do?”

For starters, I find it helpful to consider protective factors. Often when we discuss issues, like child abuse, we hear about risk factors that have been found to be associated with increased chances of child abuse occurring. Protective factors are the opposite; these are factors that can buffer against negative experiences and decrease the chance of child abuse occurring. We cannot be sure that negative experiences never happen to a child or family, but protective factors act as a buffer to decrease the impact.

A way to think about protective factors would be to consider mailing a breakable item like a vase to someone across the country. If you wrap it up in bubble wrap and label it fragile, it doesn’t guarantee that it won’t get jostled around on the way and that there won’t be any chips – though it does decrease the chance of the item getting broken. Similar to the experiences of children and families, the outcome will depend on what circumstances it faces throughout the journey, how others care for the package, and how fragile the item was before it shipped. Some key protective factors that we know decrease risk for child abuse are things like concrete supports, adequate housing, positive social connections and employment.

YMCA San Diego Expanded Learning Programs are an example of how out of school time programs and services promote protective factors. When families are able to have children and youth in stable care, caregivers are able to get much needed respite, which can offer time for self-care, increased availability for employment, and flexibility to engage in other services they or their family need. Additionally, there is a ripple effect in being able to hold steady employment and engage in additional services through families being able to secure more stable housing and access other concrete supports.

Another key ingredient to building up protective factors is the social and emotional needs of children, youth and families. By participating in out of school programs, children and youth have the opportunity to have positive relationships with other children, youth and staff where they develop important social and emotional skills. The caregivers also benefit from the social supports of both the staff at these programs as well as relationships with other caregivers of children and youth in the program.

At the YMCA, families have the added benefit of our Expanded Learning Programs being connected to our larger YMCA Community Support Services. This means that staff and families have access to additional supports. Families who are interested in learning more about typical child development, grow in their parenting skills or even need some additional counseling support can easily be connected to services at the Y.

To learn more about the YMCA’s Expanded Learning Programs, please click here.