Garden State groups and organizations are working to prevent child abuse amid a growing trend of child abuse calls to the state's hotline.

Rush Russell, the executive director of Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey, said the state child abuse hotline received more than 78,000 calls last year but “there are far more cases that are never reported, that we don’t know about that remain hidden in our communities and in our families. The numbers are staggering in terms of the extent of child abuse and neglect in our state.”

Russell said it’s imperative to put a greater emphasis on child abuse prevention efforts.

“The state spends more than $100 million each year on the downstream costs related to child abuse after it happens, investigations and law enforcement, foster care, lost productivity.”

He believes child abuse should be looked at as a public health issue.

“And if we put a little bit more investment up front, we can have far better outcomes downstream.”

That means while stressing the need to report any suspected child abuse incidents, “we need to look for those warning signs, what are the risk factors that abuse could happen before it actually does.”

Russell said it’s important to teach parents how to prevent stress from becoming toxic, especially if they don’t have good support systems and are struggling to make ends meet.

He said a recent study that looked at adverse childhood experience found toxic stress hurts a child in multiple ways for the rest of their life.

“That includes their success in school, jobs, relationships. It increases their risk for major health issues: it starts with smoking but mental health issues, substance abuse," he said.

“Eight of the 10 leading causes of death and disease are heavily influenced, exacerbated by bad things that happen to children early in their lives.”

Parents Inc, another group that focuses on child abuse prevention, encourages all parents and parental figures to call a 24-hour Family Helpline, 1-800-THE-KIDS, for information, referrals and guidance and encouragement about family stress related issues.

Also on New Jersey 101.5:

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com