It seems that everyday a new media report emerges about shockingly violent acts against children. Even with all the success we've had in the past decade in encouraging prevention and finding progressive ways to keep children safe, it's still not enough. Too many children die at the hands of their loved ones.
That's why we must embrace a sense of urgency. Every individual -- and every stakeholder across the country -- from one child or family to child welfare agencies, the wider community, whole state, then the nation, must renew their commitment to quality, accountability and transparency in raising and protecting children.
As child welfare workers, we must advocate for more school and training, better supervision, and manageable workloads. We must also learn to share our stories -- both the good and the bad. Too often, it's only us insiders -- the leaders in our field -- who know the success that some of our youth attain. Learning from how these successes are achieved is crucial to preventing future tragedies.
As citizens, we should support Child Abuse Prevention Month efforts. One way is to fly a flag on April 22, the day when towns, states, and organizations around the nation raise CWLA's Children's Memorial Flag to increase awareness about children lost to violence through abuse and neglect. First launched in 1998, the centerpiece of the initiative is simple -- a red flag depicting blue, paper-doll-like figures of children holding hands. In the center, the white chalk outline of a missing child symbolizes the thousands of little lives tragically lost.
As parents, we can advocate by:
- Volunteering. Get involved with other parents in your community. Help vulnerable children and their families. Start a playgroup. Simple support for children and parents can be the best way to prevent child abuse.
- Disciplining children thoughtfully. Never discipline your child when you are upset. Give yourself time to calm down. Remember that discipline is a way to teach your child.
- Supporting prevention programs. Too often, intervention occurs only after abuse is reported. Greater investments are needed in programs that have been proven to stop the abuse before it occurs -- such as family counseling and home visits by nurses who provide assistance for newborns and their parents.
- Knowing what child abuse is. Physical and sexual abuse clearly constitute maltreatment, but so does neglect, or the failure of parents or other caregivers to provide a child with needed food, clothing, and care.
- Reporting abuse. If you witness a child being harmed or see evidence of abuse, or if a child tells you about abuse, make a report to your state's child protective services department or local police.
- Connecting with resources. Reach out to other parents, Mom's groups, churches, schools, nonprofits etc. for parenting education and support.
- Visiting or e-mailing elected officials. Request that your governor, state legislators, county commissioners, and mayor proclaim the month of April as Child Abuse Prevention Month and fly the Children's Memorial Flag.
We all have a role in preventing abuse and neglect. This is a serious issue that undermines our society and requires urgent attention from all of us. Don't let the month go by without finding a way to mark the young lives that have been lost...in hopes of saving another.