State Views: We can all play roles in preventing child abuse
Each year in the U.S., over 750,000 children suffer from abuse or neglect. Sadly, odds are that one or more of the children you encounter today is, or has been, victimized by someone responsible for their care.
April is Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month in Wisconsin. It serves as a reminder that despite troubling statistics, people across the state dedicate their lives to protecting Wisconsin’s most precious resource.
At the Department of Children and Families, we’re continually striving to improve our efforts to keep children safe from harm. In order to prevent child abuse and neglect, and not simply react to it, we’ve revamped approaches to address entire families.
Our primary obligation is still safety. If a child is deemed unsafe, we’ll work with courts to place the child in a safe setting, while we work with the family to deal with stressors that led to the unsafe conditions. We help establish a network of support within the community so the family has resources to assist in times of high stress. In some cases, we help teach caregivers the basic parenting skills they might lack. After extensive work, if parents can demonstrate that they can provide for the well-being of their child, we work to return the child to the home.
In situations where it’s deemed possible to keep children safe while keeping the family intact, the child welfare agency uses intensive in-home services to help the family learn coping skills. Research into childhood trauma has shown that removing a child from a home can have long-lasting negative effects. Keeping a child with the family as we work with the parents is one way we can take a trauma-informed care approach to reducing the impact of what the child has endured. Through this method, we hope to lessen the generational cycle of harm caused by child abuse and neglect.
If, despite all of the interventions and available training, parents don’t show they can keep their children safe, we’ll work tirelessly to find them loving forever families through adoption or guardianship.
However, even with all of the improvements to the child welfare system, we know we cannot prevent child abuse and neglect without your help. Learn the warning signs of abuse and neglect. Get involved if you suspect a child is being victimized. 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 needed help.
We also encourage you to connect with families in your community who might be experiencing unexpected or prolonged stress. By helping 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 helpful tips or becoming a mentor to an older child who needs a role model, you can help prevent abuse or neglect.
We can win the battle against child abuse and neglect if we all work together.
Eloise Anderson is secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. Readers can contact her at DCFSecretaryEloiseAnderson@wisconsin.gov.