Alliance for Children, ACH Child & Family Services, CASA of Tarrant County, Gladney Center for Adoption, Lena Pope, and The Parenting Center held a joint event, For the Sake of the Children, on Apr. 4 to highlight National Child Abuse Prevention Month and local child abuse statistics and services.
Mattie Parker, a board member for ACH Child & Family Services, foster/adoptive parent and Chief of Staff for Mayor Betsy Price and the Fort Worth City Council, moderated a panel discussion featuring primarily CEO’s of the participating organizations.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price was present to share her remarks on the subject. Mayor Price lamented the more than 5,500 confirmed cases of child abuse in Tarrant County, but applauded the participating nonprofit organizations for their combined 426 years of working with child abuse victims and vulnerable families.
When asked about the role prevention and early intervention plays in preventing child abuse, Lena Pope CEO Todd Landry pointed out that not all of the 5,500 cases of child abuse are grave and the vast majority of the cases actually involve neglect. He then reinforced that the majority of families love their children and want to do well, and that helping families keep their children is in the best interest of the children. Landry observed that because of that, we as a community should put resources in place that increase and focus on protective factors.
Paul Gravley, Executive Director of the Parenting Center, added that there is generally a misconception or stereotype in the community around child abuse. He shared that a typical child abuse or neglect perpetrator is a 24-year-old white woman and that we are all at risk of abusing or neglecting our children, as most cases are situational or stress induced. The Parenting Center is currently conducting research under a federal grant to determine that impact of services for families that include financial and parent coaching as well as traditional wraparound services.
Julie Evans, Executive Director of Alliance for Children, was asked for abuse prevention tips and educated attendees on some of the differences between sexual and physical abuse. Evans encouraged greater communication with our children and creating environments where children are empowered to ask for help.
Mark Melson, Chief Executive Officer of the Gladney Center for Adoption, articulated the case for adoption as a prevention tool in the cycle of abuse and neglect. He shared that taking a child out of a difficult situation and placing him or her in a home with parents who are ready to parent and prepared to be fully engaged in the process can be a prevention tool.
A large portion of the moderated panel discussion was focused on treatment and other services for children after abuse or neglect has happened. Dr. Wayne Carson, CEO of ACH Child & Family Services, stressed that foster care services are designed to be temporary and that children were not meant to grow up in the foster care system. Less than 15% of the 5,500 victims of child abuse and neglect in Tarrant County will end up in foster care, but the key to success in foster care is providing a wide range of treatment services with a number of local partners making local decisions. ACH Child & Family Services currently leads the first Foster Care Redesign effort in Texas.
Natalie Stalmach, Development Director at CASA of Tarrant County gave excellent perspective on the challenges faced by children in the foster care system. Children often lose a lot. Not only have they been placed in a home without their parent or family, but often they have lost their neighborhood, their school, their best friend, and their soccer team in the process. Organizations like CASA work to help keep these connections as much as possible while supporting permanency.
In general, the group offered the following calls to action for child abuse prevention:
- Educating the community about mandatory reporting;
- Better coordination of services;
- More child abuse awareness;
- Engaging families earlier;
- Ensuring every child has the presence of at least one care adult on a consistent basis; and
- Getting to more parents to teach them how to protect their children from abuse.
Todd Landry of Lena Pope shared that there may be opportunity in the near future to tackle some of these call to actions as the recently passed Federal law, Families First Prevention Services Act, is absorbed and implemented locally.
Disclosure: The author, Barbara Clark-Galupi, has worked as a staff member, volunteer or consultant for several organizations mentioned in this article.