In response to Cape May County’s poor outcomes in national childhood health and wellness reports, county experts and organizations are teaming up to address childhood neglect, abuse and other traumas.
The Cape Regional Wellness Alliance, led by the Cape Regional Health System, was created to focus on reducing emotional, physical and sexual childhood traumas, some of which occur more in Cape May County than anywhere else in the state.
Adverse childhood experiences include all types of abuse, neglect and other traumatic experiences, such as witnessing domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, divorce or an incarcerated parent, said Tom Piratzky, executive director of the Cape Regional Foundation, the donor arm of the health system.
MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Saturday marks 26 years since the disappearance of an 11-year-old township boy.
Cape May County had one of the highest percentages of children, at 16 percent, with substantiated investigations of child abuse or neglect in 2015, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s national 2017 Kids Count report.
The report also showed the county had the highest rate of children, 11 of every 1,000, in out-of-home placements and the highest percentage of residents unemployed, about 9.8, in 2016.
“These traumatized children face challenges that no child deserves, and damage caused by adverse childhood experiences often results in young people who develop long-lasting harmful behaviors that affect themselves, their families and their communities,” Piratzky said.
The Cape May County-based group was one of 10 state community coalitions selected by the New Jersey Health Initiatives’ Building a Culture of Health program in 2016 to receive up to $200,000 in grant money over four years to implement wellness plans in their communities.
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New Jersey Health Initiatives is the grant-making program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The 2016 Building a Culture of Health grantees also included the Ocean County YMCA, based in Toms River, and the Rutgers Southern Regional Childcare Resource and Referral Agency, serving Bridgeton.
Alliance officials said they will focus specifically on communities like Lower Township, Middle Township, Wildwood and Woodbine, which have recorded high rates of adverse childhood experiences.
Alliance members, in addition to Piratzky, include Vicki Clark, president of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce; Christopher Kobik, superintendent of schools for Lower Township; Vicki Lachman, advance practice nurse and Cape Regional Health System board member; Christopher Leusner, Middle Township chief of police; and Greg Speed, president of Cape Counseling.