Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health Receives Funding to Make Its Children’s Hospitals “No Hit Zones” and Work in the Community to End Domestic Violence

With the help of a three-year $735,742 grant from New Jersey Department of Child, and Family Services and a $23,000 grant from the New Jersey Health Foundation, Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health is furthering its commitment to the health and safety of children, joining the national No Hit Zone movement. As part of the initiative, a productive parenting program will be launched. 

The No Hit Zone movement is an initiative that works to end violence and coach parents about strategies that can prevent, and end the cycle of violence. 

The American Psychological Association notes that while physical punishment has declined since 1960, nearly two-thirds of Americans still believe in spanking their children as a form of discipline.   The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has described physical abuse as “the use of physical force, such as hitting, shaking, burning, or other shows of force against a child.”  Even though physical harm may not be planned, research shows it may hurt children both physically and emotionally.   

In establishing a “No Hit Zone” in its two children’s hospitals, Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital in Hackensack and K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital in Neptune, the network is protecting the health of children by addressing the cycle of violence that often begins with domestic abuse.  The No Hit Zone (NHZ) program will  be launched in September within the Hackensack Meridian Health network, and with community partners.

“Hackensack Meridian Health is proud to be the first health organization in the state to implement the No Hit Zone program in New Jersey. The goals of NHZ are to lower the frequency of disruptive behaviors in the designated

areas, to maintain a safe and caring atmosphere for families and staff, and to provide a clear message against interpersonal violence at all ages,” said Judy Aschner, M.D., physician-in-chief of Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health. “Ending the cycle of violence is essential to our mission of improving the health of our patients, and this educational program will go a long way in changing parents’ perception of physical discipline.” 

As a NHZ organization, Hackensack Meridian Health will serve as a leader in the community to model and champion safe interactions, reduce the most common risk factor for child maltreatment, and promote better opportunities for health. 

The NHZ will include signage throughout select facilities enforcing the message of no physical violence and emphasizing that no adult should hit an adult, no adult should hit a child, no child should hit another child, and no child should hit an adult.

To expand the No Hit Zone program into the wider community, Hackensack Meridian Health has partnered with the Greater Bergen Community Action programs and Acelero’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs in Asbury Park, Neptune, Jersey City, Hackensack, and Paterson to bring educational parenting programs to these communities. Starting this fall, a six-week positive and productive parenting skills coaching sessions  will be offered. The network is also looking to partner with other organizations interested in promoting positive parenting, including schools and businesses that would benefit from the No Hit Zone educational program. 

“The No Hit Zone at Hackensack Meridian Health is about growing awareness, understanding, and skills building. Preventing abuse, and violence in general, requires understanding the foundation of effective parenting, validating perceptions, and subsequently providing emotional and productive skills so that parents can utilize non physical means of discipline,” said Brett A. Biller, PsyD., mental health director, Audrey Hepburn Children’s House at  Hackensack University Medical Center. “Change at a societal level requires understanding and changes in perceptions about the impact of physical discipline in homes. The goal of this effort is similar to prior efforts to reduce cigarette smoking or increasing the use of seatbelts, in that we recognize changes in societal perceptions may take time – but will ultimately result in enhanced wellness for our children and the community.”  

No Hit Zone is a primary prevention program that encourages healthy interpersonal relationships and a safe environment for families. It is a national program first conceptualized by Lolita McDavid, M.D., professor of  pediatrics at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland. Eye catching posters are placed in patient rooms, public bathrooms, by elevators and entrances in waiting rooms.  Educational brochures and handouts addressing a host of discipline issues are created for free distribution to parents. Educational sessions are provided for doctors, nurses, child life specialists, administrative staff, social workers, rehab therapists, lobby receptionists, and more detailing the program introducing the family educational materials and demonstrating a variety of practical approaches to intervening in abusive or disruptive discipline situations. 

Since its initial inception within pediatric hospital settings, No Hit Zones have expanded throughout the country.  Hackensack Meridian Health is continuing to expand on the NHZ program by developing a six-week group for caregivers that will explore the reasons caregivers use physical discipline, validate historic perceptions around physical discipline, and provide skills to use in place of physical discipline.

Corporal punishment, including spanking, smacking, or hitting with a hand or object has been documented to be associated with an increased risk of physical abuse and negative long-term effects on children, including behavioral problems, slowed cognitive development, reduced gray matter in the brain, criminal and antisocial behavior, and poor mental health. The American Academy of  Pediatrics (AAP) unequivocally states that corporal punishment “should not” be used. The AAP recommends alternative measures that are identified as effective discipline. Research supports the understanding that physical discipline models aggressive behavior as conflict  resolution and increases the likelihood of more severe and chronic aggression in the parent and child. 

“It’s incredibly important to recognize that times have changed, and that spanking or hitting a child is not an appropriate or productive punishment,” said Christine Norbut Beyer, commissioner of the Department of Children and Families. “This grant, establishing ‘No Hit Zones’ throughout the state, reminds parents that spanking is not an acceptable way to influence a child’s behavior and to empower bystanders to intervene in the child’s interests, if needed. We are pleased with Hackensack Meridian Health’s commitment to creating a safe, peaceful environment that will hopefully spark a broader conversation on parental discipline.”

The program is the latest anti-violence initiative launched by the Hackensack Meridian Health network. Jersey Shore University Medical Center’s Project HEAL is a separate community-based program dedicated to providing assistance, resources and tools to help change and improve the lives of those affected by violence.  The program, which works in coordination with a variety of other community and crisis groups, is a program of the academic medical center’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health.  The goal of Project HEAL is to break the cycle of violence by connecting with individuals after a violent experience, when they might be most willing to make a change.