This op-ed appears in the online edition of the Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal, March 31, 2015
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. And while it’s a good time to shine a spotlight on child abuse and neglect, it’s important to understand that children are injured, physically, emotionally, sexually, in the Greater Louisville area and elsewhere every day.
Last year, in Jefferson County, 3,467 children were victims of abuse and neglect. Statewide that number totaled more than 19,000, and 12 of those children died. Another 29 were severely injured. In the last five years, there were 350 child fatalities and near fatalities due to abuse and neglect.
That’s 350 young lives lost and forever impacted. Without treatment, without help, even more of those will be lost to suicide, crime or poor health.
That’s why Family & Children’s Place and other organizations and agencies, such as Kosair Charities’ Face It® Movement, Kentucky Youth Advocates and others are so important. Child abuse, neglect and exploitation can be prevented and future generations spared the trauma, but it requires investment – financial and personal – and commitment.
It requires people to be responsible, to report abuse, or even potential abuse when they see it or suspect it is happening. It requires learning the indicators of abuse. It can begin with a bruise, blister, burn or break, or it can be “invisible,” hidden out of shame or fear. Regardless, it leads to fear, withdrawal, depression, self-destructive behavior and more.
Child abuse is not one and done. It has lifelong impact.
And there’s no abuser demographic – no “profile.” Abusers come from all backgrounds, races, cultures, ethnic groups. Nothing makes them look different from anybody else, but there are signals that give them away – behaviors such as criticizing, labeling the child as “bad,” belittling and blaming.
Kentucky’s General Assembly took a great step this year, passing legislation that ensures educators receive training on recognizing signs of child abuse. So there will be new, trained allies in this battle for children.
Last year at Family& Children’s Place, we were able to help nearly 5,000 children and family members survive unspeakable traumas and rebuild safe, stable, healthy lives. But that’s only a fraction of the number of children and families who need help from us and others.
Children and families like Christine.
Christine was 7 when she first came to us. She was traumatized by domestic violence – fueled by alcohol – between her mother and father. Police had removed her father from the home after a recent incident, but a judge ordered visitation between her and her father.
Christine was terrified. At our Supervised Visitation Center, she told counselors she would see her father only if there were “100 policemen to protect me!” After touring the center, seeing its security, cameras, separate entrances, locks and caring staff, she agreed to a visit.
The first visit became two, then three, and they continue. Security is close by, staff supervises every visit and her father is following all the rules. Christine meets with a therapist to help her navigate the trauma of witnessing violence between her mother and father. She loves her father, but not the things he did.
The father still has issues to work through. Christine’s mother is working and seeing a therapist. Christine and her mother have a new apartment and Christine is doing well in school.
“Family & Children’s Place saved me, saved my family,” she says.
Investing in a successful future for children begins with family. We and others work to strengthen thousands of families each year by giving them the tools, training and resources they need in key areas of nurturing parenting, school readiness, financial stability and emotional health.
The dividend is happy, safe kids with meaningful family and friend relationships.
Agencies are sponsoring a number of activities throughout the month to amplify the conversation and we encourage you to participate in all or as many as you can. At Family & Children’s Place, we have our Building Brighter Futures Breakfast April 16 at The Seelbach and a 5k “Stomp the silence: Taking steps toward healing” run/walk, Saturday April 18, at Seneca Park. Others are offering similar events.
No single agency has resources or expertise enough to make a community-wide difference for all children who endure violence or abuse. We are part of a network of help and hope seeking a community of happy, healthy children and families, freed from abuse
We need everyone’s help to stop abuse and neglect before additional tragedies become front-page news, such as recent cases we have witnessed in Kentucky and Southern Indiana.
The most unprotected among us are still children. On paper, kids are protected, but we all know that in reality, the situation is quite different. We owe children protection – from harm, injury, insult.
Child abuse is everyone’s problem. Don’t look away.
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Pam Darnall is president and CEO of Family & Children’s Place, which works to protect Kentuckiana children, families and communities from abuse, neglect and exploitation, and help move them from hurting to healing. The agency served more than 6,000 children and family members last year through trauma-informed and impact-evident services. For more information about Family and Children’s Place, visit www.famchildplace.org or call 502-893-3900.