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Steps to stop childabuse

by Beth Barclay & Roger Sherman
| December 31, 2010 8:00 PM

We're all in this together. That's one of the messages we got from the recent, extremely disturbing revelations about the 2-year-old Crossley twins.

Anthony Brown could have been just another passerby but instead he decided to act. We hope we could all say the same. We hope we would all act if we saw what he saw. Our community rallied around those little girls, many brought birthday and Christmas gifts for them. A bank account was opened in their behalf. While it's too late to prevent the horrific tragedy that happened to the Crossley twins, it's NOT too late to prevent similar events from occurring in the lives of our families, our friends' and neighbors' families. Child abuse doesn't have to happen. Prevention is doing what we can today to ensure that our children live in an environment that is loving, stimulating and supportive.

As an example of prevention, think about seat belts. I remember, as will people of a certain age, bouncing around in the back seat of cars on long trips, riding in the back of pick-up trucks, seeing kids on parents' laps as they were driving along. We don't see that very much anymore because we've invested in seat belts as a prevention concept. This campaign hasn't been 100 percent successful, but it has dramatically reduced the incidence of injury and death as a result of car accidents. Seat belts work now, not just because the government or agencies with particular agendas tell us to use them, they've become a community norm. This is the direction we'd like to move in the prevention of child abuse, having prevention be the norm at all levels, starting with the family.

Research shows that parents and caregivers who have support - from family, friends, neighbors, and their communities - are more likely to provide safe and healthy homes for their children. When parents lack this support or feel isolated, on the other hand, they may be more likely to make poor decisions that can lead to neglect. That's where the child protection system and law enforcement come in. The field of child abuse prevention focuses on strengthening families because that is where most abuse occurs. Between 80 and 85 percent of all child maltreatment is perpetrated by parents. Over 90 percent of all child sexual abuse is perpetrated either within families or by known and trusted people. Neglect is by far the most prevalent form of maltreatment and amounts to over 60 percent of all substantiated cases. It also results in the most fatalities.

The best way to prevent child abuse is to help parents develop the skills and identify the resources they need to understand and meet their children's needs and protect them from harm. Entire communities can play a role in helping families find the strength they need to raise safe, healthy, and productive children.Here are some ideas (that don't cost any money) that we can do right now in real time to ensure that local children are safe:

* Get to know your neighbors. Problems seem less overwhelming when support is nearby.* Help a family under stress. Offer to babysit, help with chores and errands, or suggest resources in the community that can help.

* Reach out to acknowledge children in your community. A smile or a word of encouragement can mean a lot to a child or parent who's having a bad day.* Be an active community member. Lend a hand at local schools, community or faith-based organizations, hospitals, social service agencies, or other places where families and children are supported.

* Keep your neighborhood safe. Start a Neighborhood Watch or plan a local "National Night Out" community event. You will get to know your neighbors while helping to keep your neighborhood and children safe.* Learn how to recognize and report signs of child abuse and neglect. Reporting your concerns may protect a child and get help for a family who needs it.

The ICARE Program of St. Vincent de Paul is dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect before it even starts. We offer one on one in-home parent coaching at no cost to the family, support groups at no cost and low cost parenting classes. No one is born a good parent, but good parenting skills can be learned. Strengthening families is not what we do to a family, it's what happens when we partner with a family.Other community programs that aid in child abuse prevention include Early Head Start, NIC Head Start, Big Brothers Big Sisters, child care centers and schools. Our community has many other resources to assist families. Parenting is one of the toughest and most important jobs in America today, and we all have a stake in ensuring that parents have access to the resources and support they need to be successful.

Beth Barclay directs the ICARE program at St. Vincent de Paul and Roger Sherman is executive director of the Idaho Children's Trust Fund in Boise.

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