Colorado prospers when our kids thrive. They are our future workforce, leaders and community members. No matter where they live in our state — the plains, mountains, rural areas or urban centers — children need high-quality support for development and every parent struggles.

It is the degree to which we struggle and who we rely on to help us that varies.

Jade Woodard

We can all agree that preventing a child fatality, particularly those attributed to abuse or neglect, is of paramount importance for our state to thrive.

Every year, the Colorado Fatality Prevention System (CFPS) reviews these tragedies and the heartbreaking circumstances surrounding the loss of a young life in great detail to arrive at a set of recommendations to prevent future loss of life — recommendations which the average citizen would likely think would immediately be acted upon.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. One way to prevent child maltreatment, and a recommendation of the CFPS backed by ample evidence, is by offering paid leave to ALL parents and caregivers in Colorado.

You see, there are three different types of child abuse prevention:

  1. Primary prevention that strengthens ALL families, directed at the general population and attempts to prevent child maltreatment before it occurs.
  2. Secondary prevention that focuses on high-risk populations that have one or more risk factors associated with child maltreatment, such as poverty, parental substance abuse, young parental age, parental mental health concerns and parental or child disabilities.
  3. And, tertiary prevention, activities focused on families where maltreatment has already occurred or likely occurred and seeks to reduce the negative consequences of the trauma and prevent it from happening again. To end child maltreatment in Colorado, we need all three.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Over the past several years, Colorado has made great strides advancing secondary and tertiary prevention. Lawmakers and state and local county government continue to work together to improve our child welfare system.

The state created a public awareness campaign to engage all Coloradans in the role everyone plays in preventing child abuse by promoting one easy to use phone number, 1-844-CO-4-KIDS, to connect to when you have a concern for a child.

Lawmakers also continue to invest in making support more available to families at higher risk that may become known to the child welfare system, but where abuse or neglect has not yet occurred.

But significant investments in primary prevention that help strengthen ALL Colorado families, investments like paid leave, have not come to fruition, despite being the most effective way to prevent child abuse from ever happening in the first place.

MORE: Few Colorado workers get paid time off to care for a new baby or sick family member. Changing that is a key goal for Democrats.

Research has shown that the good can outweigh the bad. Protective factors are conditions or attributes in individuals, families, communities or the larger society that, when present, mitigate or eliminate risk in families and communities and increase the health and well-being of children and families.

Five protective factors are linked to a lower incidence of child abuse and neglect. Those five protective factors that make families strong and prevent child abuse and neglect — parental resilience, social connections, concrete supports, knowledge of parenting and child development and social and emotional competence of children — that is how Colorado can prevent children and teens from experiencing the trauma of child maltreatment or even losing their young lives.

For all caregivers, including birth mothers, fathers, same-sex parents and adoptive parents, the ability to take paid leave allows for closer bonding among family members and is a protective factor against child maltreatment.

Services and policies that help strengthen families, prevent abuse and neglect, aid caregivers struggling with adversity and promote positive interactions within families and caregivers help kids develop their full potential.

Studies have shown paid family leave is significantly associated with reductions in hospitalizations for abusive head trauma. Paid leave also reduces the impact of the caregiver stress and symptoms of maternal depression, which are known risk factors for child maltreatment.

Additionally, paid leave promotes family financial stability by helping families maintain employment and stay above the poverty level.

Now is the time to build a Colorado for kids. A Colorado where we listen to the needs of parents. A Colorado where all parents are supported by their friends, family, community, programs and policies that make it possible to parent their own children to the best of their ability. It is time to strengthen all Colorado families.

Illuminate Colorado is a statewide nonprofit dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect by building brighter childhoods and strengthening Colorado families. We encourage local and state level policymakers and employers across Colorado to support policies that promote paid leave for families.

Jade Woodard is the executive director of Illuminate Colorado, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect by building brighter childhoods. She writes about research-based approaches to preventing child abuse and policy, program and systemic improvements to strengthen Colorado families.

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @illuminate_co