GARY | Every three minutes of every day, a black child is abuse or neglected, and one dies from that abuse or neglect at the hands of parents or parental figures.
That cycle of corporal punishment in black families has historical roots, according to Stacey Patton, who was keynote speaker at Friday's 22nd annual forum on child abuse and neglect at Indiana University Northwest.
The forum was sponsored by the IUN School of Public and Environmental Affairs in observance of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Continuing education credits were available to foster parents and licensed social workers who participated.
A noted author, scholar and child advocate, Patton knows firsthand about the trauma of physical abuse. Born in Montclair, N.J., Patton spent the first five years of her childhood in foster care before being adopted by abusive parents.
At age 12, she ran away from home and spent the next few years being shuttled between foster homes and youth shelters before winning a full scholarship to Lawrenceville Prep School near Princeton, N.J.
In 2007, Patton published a book about her experiences, "That Mean Old Yesterday." The book includes a discussion of the historical roots and impact of physical discipline of children in African-American families. In April 2011, she launched an online portal designed to teach alternatives to physical discipline of children.
"My adoptive mother would say 'I whoop you because I love you' before and after her beating rituals," Patton said.
The history of African-Americans in America has "conditioned us to accept that having somebody control and beat us when we are young is somehow at the heart of our success and ability to become law-abiding productive adults," she said.
It's a style of parenting that is passed on from generation to generation, Patton said.
"The fact that so many black people legitimize abuse as a form of responsible parenting, effectively demonstrates how the intergenerational transmission of trauma continues to mentally shackle us and perpetuates rampant abuse which feeds a disproportionate number of young into the foster care and juvenile justice industries," she said.
Helping black families — both biological and foster — break that cycle involves learning important parenting skills such as patience, empathy, communication skills and the ability to solve problems, Patton said.
She urged child welfare professionals to appreciate why some parents are incapable of nurturing their children in healthy, nonviolent ways.
"To fight child abuse, it's not enough just to remove children from dangerous situations, or to investigate allegations of child abuse," Patton said. "Social service professionals and others engaged in the fight need to become culturally competent by developing a stronger understanding of the link between child abuse and the history of personal and cultural trauma."