Preventing child abuse
Each year in the U.S. more than 750,000 children and youths suffer from abuse or neglect.
Sadly, the odds are that one or more of the children that you encounter today is, or has been, victimized by a person responsible for their care. Child abuse is something that knows no boundaries. It happens in big cities, suburban communities and small towns. It happens across all socio-economic classes. And it is happening right now. In fact a report of abuse or neglect is made every 10 seconds.
April is Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month in Wisconsin, as proclaimed by Gov. Scott Walker. It serves as a reminder that despite the troubling statistics, people from all over the state dedicate their lives to protecting Wisconsin’s most precious resource.
At the Department of Children and Families, we are continually striving to improve our efforts to keep children safe from harm. In the not too distant past, the norm for child welfare agencies was to react to abuse and neglect as if it took place in a vacuum. Now, thanks to extensive research and analysis, we know this not to be the case. The majority of people who inflict pain upon their children love them and do not set out to cause suffering. Most instances of child abuse or neglect occurs because parents do not know how to cope with stressors or have been victims themselves.
In order to prevent child abuse and neglect, and not simply react to it, we have revamped our approaches to address the entire family. Our primary obligation is still to ensure the safety of children. If a child is deemed to be unsafe, we will work with the courts to place the child in a safe setting, while we work with the family to learn how to deal with the stressors that led to the unsafe conditions for the child. We help to establish a network of support within the family’s community, so that they have resources to assist them in times of high stress. And in some cases, we help teach caregivers the basic skills of parenting that they might not have learned due to the lack of parental role models during their own childhood. After extensive work, if parents are able to demonstrate that they can provide for the care and well-being of their child, we work to return the child to their home. If despite all of the interventions and training made available, parents do not show that they can provide for the safety of their children, then we will work tirelessly to find them a loving forever family through adoption or guardianship.
In situations where it is deemed possible to keep families intact and children safe, the child welfare agency will work with the caregivers to learn to deal with the stressors that can lead to abuse or neglect while the child remains with their family. This approach of using intensive in-home services to work with a family is taken with the best long term interest of the child in mind. Research into the effects of childhood trauma has shown that removing a child from their home can have long-lasting negative after-effects. Keeping a child with their family as we work with the parents is one way that we can take a trauma informed care approach to reducing the impact of what the child has endured and improve their long-term outcomes. Through this method, we hope to be able to lessen the generational cycle of harm caused by child abuse and neglect.
Many steps have been taken to change the way that DCF approaches dealing with child abuse or neglect cases, however as the old saying goes an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We know that the best way to keep a child safe is to prevent abuse or neglect from happening in the first place. To this end, the Department has implemented some truly ground-breaking initiatives like the Home Visiting Program that identifies families in high-risk areas and works with them even before a child is born to reduce the factors that can lead to a child being a victim of abuse or neglect.
However, even with all of the improvements to the child welfare system, we know that we cannot prevent child abuse and neglect without your help. If we are going to truly make a difference in children’s lives it will take all of us working together 24/7 to keep our children safe.
You have the greatest ability to help keep a child safe. Learn about the warning signs of abuse and neglect. Get involved if you suspect a child is being victimized. You can’t assume that someone else closer to the child or to the family has already noticed the possible abuse or neglect and taken action. Pick up the phone and report your suspicions to your local child welfare agency. You might be the difference in whether or not a child gets the help that they need.
We also encourage you to connect with families and children in your community who may be experiencing unexpected or prolonged stress, due to the curve balls that life can throw at people, such as the loss of a job or a change in the family structure. By helping to support these families through something as simple as offering to watch a child for a few hours, being willing to listen and offer advice, providing new parents with some helpful tips or becoming a mentor to an older child who is looking for a positive role model, you can help them remain stable and prevent an occurrence of abuse or neglect.
We can win the battle against child abuse and neglect, if we all work together.
Secretary, Wisconsin Department of Children and Families
Kendall and free speech
Elijah Lovejoy risked his life defending free speech in the 1830s. First Amendment rights are still at risk, particularly in the Town of Kendall.
At the April annual meeting chairman Tom McWilliams laid ground rules that included censorship. There was to be no discussion of things that happened in the past, said McWilliams, who ran for a town chair spot and failed nearly a decade ago.
Traditionally, annual meetings are held for citizens to voice opinions, ask questions, make observations and tender proposals. But McWilliams’ censorship extended to observations on improving our government. I got as far as “Seven little words that can make a big difference.” Told my comments had nothing to do with township business, I was ordered to sit down.
In reality, it had everything to do with it. If I had been allowed to proceed, I would have questioned imbroglios over violations of Wisconsin Open Records and Open Meeting laws and asked if it’s right to deny residents opportunities to express their viewpoints at meetings.
Other municipalities encourage and promote open government by allowing public comment on their agendas. Of the past 14 Town of Kendall agendas, only two have allowed public comment.
Residents are frequently discouraged from participation by not being allowed to be on the agenda. The resident is reduced to mendicant status, and even then may be met with a refusal.
Oil for the Town of Kendall’s troubled waters is desperately needed. But before that can happen, officials need to clean up their act by respecting Wisconsin openness laws and residents’ First Amendment rights.
Elijah Lovejoy died 177 years ago to defend free speech and opinion. In Kendall what else, besides morality, has died?
The Platteville Journal will print most letters to the editor, regardless of the opinion presented. The Journal reserves the right to edit material that is libelous or otherwise offensive to community standards and to shorten letters the Journal feels are excessively long. All letters must be signed and the signature must appear on the printed letter, along with a contact number or email for verification. Some submitted letters may not be published due to space constraints. “Thank you” letters will not be printed. All letters and columns represent the views of the writers and not necessarily the views of The Platteville Journal.