It’s a safe assumption that people (parents or not) want the best for children.
If you were to ask the average person how our community should set its priorities and allocate its resources, many would say “children” in some way. Maybe their top priority would be school readiness, libraries, access to healthcare or recreational opportunities. Many would prioritize keeping children safe.
If you are a parent, protecting your children is of primary importance and a part of your everyday life. If you are not a parent, or your children are grown, it might seem outside of your responsibilities. The reality is that protecting the children in our community is everyone’s business because we all stand to gain from healthy, happy children and families.Every minute in America a child is reported abused or neglected. In the federal fiscal year of 2014 (October 2013 to September 2014), there were 67,863 reports of abuse and neglect in Oregon and 2,200 in Lane County. Nearly half of the victims were younger than 6 years old.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month — a time to raise awareness and make meaningful connections with children and families in our community. We can all help prevent child abuse and neglect by creating a nurturing community and giving families the support they need. There are many proven strategies that help build a healthy and giving community where children thrive, from broad policy issues to individuals stepping up and helping neighbors. Here are some things you can do:
- Help support family-friendly spaces, like parks and other open spaces that give families room to move and interact safely.
- Support schools and institutions like libraries that provide equitable cost-free opportunities for children to learn and give children a chance to realize their potential.
- Support anti-bullying legislation and school policies.
- Work toward economic equity and fair wages, so parents and children have access to healthy food, adequate health care and affordable housing, and so they don’t have to cope with the added stress that poverty can bring.
- Be a friend to the families and children in your neighborhood. Isolation is a risk factor for neglect and abuse. Sometimes a friendly hello or check in can do wonders for an isolated parent who is having a rough day.
- Children who are left unattended frequently or who are suddenly or unusually withdrawn can be signs of abuse or neglect. If you’re concerned about a child or situation, you can call the Oregon Department of Human Services (toll-free 1-866-300-2782) to talk about your concerns. They may be able to guide you in how best to respond. If you see a child who is hurt or in danger, call 911 immediately.
- Support parenting education. There are many agencies that are on the front line, supporting families when it gets tough. If you are able, provide financial support that will go directly to families that are stressed and in need. Parenting Now! (formerly Birth to Three), Relief Nursery and Pearl Buck are a few of the organizations that do this work in Lane County.
- Volunteer! Our organizations depend on volunteers to help best serve families in our community. Consider volunteer opportunities such as assisting in the children’s program or work with professional parent educators at Parenting Now! or helping in a classroom or assist in parenting education at Pearl Buck Center Preschool. Relief Nursery uses 200 hours per week just for direct service volunteers who work with children in the therapeutic classrooms, childcare and as bus riders.
Raising awareness about what you can do to prevent child abuse and neglect is an important step toward keeping children safe and strengthening our community. To that end, many agencies and businesses in Lane County are participating in a Pinwheels for Prevention awareness campaign this month. During April you will see pinwheels twirling in front of businesses, faith centers and nonprofit agencies. These whimsical pinwheels serve as a reminder of the delight and beauty of childhood. They stand for all children’s chances at a healthy and happy life — filled with potential. So when you see these pinwheels around town, remember that protecting children in our community is everyone’s business!
Contributors to this column include Lynne Swartz, executive director of Parenting Now!; Kelly Sutherland, executive director of Relief Nursery, Inc. serving children and families in both Eugene and Springfield; Renee Van Norman is the director of the Pearl Buck Preschool, which provides comprehensive services to parents with cognitive challenges and their children and others at risk; and Tova Stabin, writer for Parenting Now! and a research librarian. Parenting Now! is a nonprofit offering groups and workshops so that all children are raised by nurturing, skilled parents. Contact Parenting Now! at parentingnow.org, on social media and at 541-484-5316.