Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Child Abuse Prevention Month

Child Abuse Prevention Month began in 1982 as a week, June 6th - 12th, and was called National Child Abuse Awareness Week.  Programs, ceremonies and activities were planned to highlight the issue.  By doing this, the U.S. Congress hoped that not only awareness but concern would grow for children being abused and/or neglected.  The following year, President Reagan expanded the week to include the entire month of April and included, instead of awareness, prevention.  This year marks the 25th anniversary.

The Office on Child Abuse and Neglect statistics show that approximately 905,000 children were abused or neglected in 2006. A new report from Prevent Child Abuse America  places the financial costs of child abuse and neglect at almost $104 billion for 2007.  Each year these statistics grow, even with all of the efforts to address the issue.

Over the years I've worked with a lot of children who have been abused and neglected.  It is heartbreaking to see the sadness in their eyes.  If you have ever seen it, you will never forget.  For most, hope is gone-if it ever existed.  The possibility of a future full of wonder and good things, isn't even in their realm of comprehension.  Merely existing and making it through another day without more bruises or being sexually assaulted is the only goal they can possibly imagine.

And, as if abuse from a parent or trusted friend (as it is in most cases) isn't enough, the child is often abused again by the system that is supposed to care for them.  They are forced, once they tell someone about their plight, to retell and retell every social service worker, every police officer or sheriff's deputy,  every county or city attorney, and every counselor. It is not uncommon for a child who has finally made the decision to tell, to be forced to repeat their story as many as 6-12 times and this does not count court preparation and testimony.  Reliving the abuse is just as traumatic as the event itself, I can guarantee you. 

I was fortunate to work with a group of people in northeast Nebraska who shared the goal of creating an organization in which we could limit the after-trauma inflicted on these children.  We became affiliates of an organization called the National Children's Advocacy Center.  This is an organization who's purpose is to train the professionals who deal with child abuse in our communities on best practices in working together to alleviate any further trauma to children of abuse.  This means that when a child reports or someone reports a child's abuse, a team of people work as one unit to interview and provide all manner of resources for the child.  Instead of being interviewed by each department, they are interviewed once by a trained professional who understands abuse and all its issues.  They are questioned in a child-friendly environment instead of the police station or the DSS office.  The team works as a unit to provide care and any other needs the child may have, short and long term. 

Today there is an organization called the Northeast Nebraska Children's Advocacy Center in Norfolk, Nebraska.  Any child who has been abused throughout the northeast corner of the state can be brought to the center and cared for in the best way possible by staff who have been specially trained.  Unfortunately, not all communities have an organization like this and the children pay the price for it.  It's really not hard to set one up.  What is hard is crossing boundaries from one department to another to make the system more efficient.  Sometimes our processes and old habits inhibit us from working together for the victim and that is what makes creating an organization like this difficult.  We spent many, many hours attempting to show stakeholders the benefits of this type of procedure--for them and the children.  It is difficult for long-standing systems to change and there were many of us sitting around that table that wondered whether or not we'd ever see it happen, but we did and I'm proud to say I was part of it.

All it takes is one person saying, "I think there might be a better way to do this."  Getting people to the table is easy.  Keeping them there is the hard part, but it is doable.  It just takes dedication and your time to continue to build bridges.  Remember, it's for the kids and these kids are our future.  Don't they deserve the best that we can give them?

Visit the NCAC website for more information about ways in which you can help:  http://nationalcac.org/.

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