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Community Involvement

Little Miss Muffet, sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey,
Along came a spider, and sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away.

Nursery Rhyme

Years ago what parents did to a child was their concern. Today’s world has changed that, and what parents do to a child is everyone’s concern.

Like Miss Muffet, the complacent community can become the victim of an abused child’s anger. This is happening all over America today. But instead of running, communities have to stand firm and make a difference.

Communities are learning that child abuse and neglect is a community concern. No one agency or professional alone can prevent the problem; it will take the concern of all citizens working together to effectively identify, prevent and resolve the issue of child abuse and neglect.

The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, (NCCAN) awards state grants for assistance in developing, strengthening and carrying out the prevention of child abuse and neglect programs. In 1991, awards were made to 53 states and territories.

These grants enable the states and communities to have programs in their child protective systems that respond to reports of medical neglect, abandonment and abuse.

During 1991, NCCAN provided 94 grants to state and local agencies to improve delivery of services to children whose parents abuse alcohol and drugs. Community, mental health agencies and nonprofit youth-serving organizations with experience in providing child abuse prevention services all benefited from these grants.

These funds may be used to:

•  hire additional personnel to reduce caseloads
•  provide training personnel
•  expand services to deal with family crises
•  establish coordination of services for children
•  coordinate multidisciplinary training models
•  provide community-based public information and education models to address the relationship between 
   substance abuse and child and youth mistreatment

To receive these funds a community must have established, the prior year, a trust fund that is available only for child abuse and neglect prevention programs. In other words, it is the community whose members work together and demonstrate their commitment to victims of abuse and neglect who will receive funds.

NCCAN conducts research into the causes, prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect. The research is looking for appropriate and effective investigative, administrative and judicial procedures to address the causes of child abuse and neglect.

One of every four females and one of every ten males will experience inappropriate sexual contact before the age of eighteen, and the abuser is usually an adult known to the victim. The increased awareness of child abuse, along with the increasing need for child care, has focused on preventive programs that teach children to protect themselves.

Prevention programs organized in communities all have different content and may be presented in varied ways, but all agree on these concepts:

•  ownership of your body – no one has the right to touch a child inappropriately
•  touching – teaching a child the difference between “good” and “bad” touches from an adult
•  secrecy – teaching a child that it is inappropriate to keep secrets about abuse or sexual contact
•  intuition – teaching a child that he or she knows what is right and wrong with adult contact
•  assertiveness skills – teaching a child to consult a responsible adult when things don’t feel right

Child abuse prevention programs recognize that all children are at equal risk, and so all children need self-protection instruction. Even very young children can be taught basic safety rules.

The cost of a child prevention program saves money. An infant who has been thrown against a wall and suffers brain damage will become a ward of the state, and during its lifetime will eventually cost the state millions of dollars. This is not even addressing the parents’ recklessness and irresponsibility which led to the abuse and the pain and suffering of the child.

It seems more practical to spend money on the child before abuse rather than after it. The “Well Baby” program provides support and education to new parents, and it identifies the parents who are potentially dysfunctional. The program is supported by volunteers throughout the first year of parenthood, is cost effective and can be adopted by all communities.

Communities Around the United States
In Hawaii, there is the Hawaii Family Support System – a community-based, multidisciplinary program that is designed to prevent child abuse and neglect. It also works to enhance a parent’s child development skills in a multi-ethnic, cultural environment. This program relies on public and private human service communities to work together. It has evolved from three to fourteen communities within Hawaii and from full federal to full state funding.

Results of the program include:

•  early involvement of health, social and educational agencies with at- risk families
•  a decrease of child abuse in children under five years of age
•  early identification of developmental delays among at risk populations
•  reduction of treatment cost for families experiencing family violence

STREEP (Steps Toward Effective, Enjoyable Parenting) is a program developed by the University of Minnesota that uses a variety of strategies to promote healthy family interaction and child development. It also features home visits by a family life facilitator beginning in the first trimester of pregnancy. The program provides group sessions for mothers and stresses emotional support, enhancement of problem-solving skills, child-care skills and help for the new parents to understand infant and child development. This program also encourages involvement by other family members.

In Kentucky, Parent and Child Education (PACE) promotes family literacy improvement. The program seeks to provide undereducated parents with basic skills to improve employability and to enable them to serve as better models for their children. Parents participate in adult education classes while their three to four year-old children attend a preschool program next door. Seventy percent of the adults in the program have either earned GEDs or increased two grade levels.

Childhaven, a therapeutic day-care program in Seattle, is situated in a low-income, decaying neighborhood. Each morning, child-care workers make the rounds to pick up the children, extending the formal program into the family environment. This allows for a realistic appraisal of parent-child interaction, of how the parent is functioning and an evaluation of the child’s environment.

Parents in this program receive practical parent education as well as transportation, casework support and access to parent support groups. This bridge between formal and informal support fills a critical gap for families with little or no social network. The children are assessed regularly. This program shows that 69 percent of those in the program have improved in problem areas.

Boston’s Healthy Baby and Healthy Child programs are composed of a network of twelve neighborhood clinics and two hospitals with strong adolescent clinics. Results include a lowering of the infant mortality rate, low birth weight of infants and a decrease in health problems overall. Furthermore, the disparity of the number of health problems between black infants, who have had more problems, and white infants, who have had less, has become smaller.

Colorado’s Community Infant Project (CIP) creates an individualized program for each family. The function and skills of parents have increased.

A failure-to-thrive baby costs $654 over a four-month period. A similar case cost the Department of Social Services in that state $8,128 including necessary out-of-home placement, hospitalization, case worker, attorney and court involvement.

In Washington, the Family Support Project-Homebuilders was created by the University of Washington School of Social Work. This project is designed to establish, maintain and strengthen support resources for those families typically isolated from such resources.

These are but a few of the programs and projects that a community can undertake. Increasing the availability of prenatal care for women will lower infant mortality. Preventive treatment for children is not a luxury but a necessity.

Risk factors that face children today:

•  genetic factors that may produce behavioral tendencies such as crime, substance abuse, physical and 
   sexual abuse, economic instability and family dissolution
•  crime-ridden neighborhoods that threaten a child’s safety and well- being
•  high drop out rates in local schools
•  unemployed or inconsistently working families resulting in a detrimen- tal effect on children
•  homelessness
•  inadequate schools, poor teaching
•  poor health care, especially with frequent hospitalizations
•  national economic instability and high unemployment, resulting in the uprooting of families
•  war, fire and other natural disasters which are great hardships for children

Many factors jeopardize and interfere with the lives of children in our society and the world. The starving children in Bosnia and Somalia are innocent pawns in political games, and it is not fair to these children to live in such circumstances.

There are more than two thousand identified genes which affect the processes of the human brain. Some studies are now examining a possible genetic disposition that may lead to antisocial behavior, but it is still not clear to researchers how or in what way genes influence behavior. The object of such gene mapping, in relation to child abuse, is to determine the potential for abuse in individuals. “There is virtually no genetic condition in which the genes alone determine the outcome,” says Paul R. Billings, Chief of Genetic Medicine at California Pacific Medical Center. Research and debate has continued on this subject up to the present.

Multiple factors must be studied in order to understand the potential risk of abusive behavior. All of these elements play a part:

•  age and gender
•  ethnicity and work patterns
•  genetic history
•  health status, stress levels
•  familial history of diseases
•  social class
•  education
•  occupation and hobbies
•  personal habits such as quality of diet, exercise, drug and alcohol usage

Poverty is a risk factor in the abuse of children, yet there are many people living in poverty who are not child abusers. However, we are allowing large numbers of children in the United States to grow up in poverty or in situations that are potentially harmful to them now and when they become adults. More than a quarter of all children in the United States drop out of school, and many thousands grow up in single parent families.

Despite the ultimate good that comes from proven programs which help children in danger from abuse and neglect, not everyone in a particular community wants help from these services in his neighborhood. Possible abuse reporters often fear destruction of their property or violence from the abuser.

All administrators of programs want to operate in an accepting environment, not a hostile one. They know that the support of the community is important to the success of the program and will actively seek the goodwill of the people in it. When the community supports a program, continued financial help is assured.

A community-based program monitors who the abusers are and follows up on what’s happened to the family and children. Community education as well as direct contact helps to assure prevention. Input from children is the reason for the success of the program.

Not all communities can offer counseling free of charge and community mental health centers usually charge fees that vary according to the income of the person seeking help. Financial limitations should not interfere with care, however, as it becomes imperative for a child who has been molested to have the best-qualified person as counselor. Unfortunately, this is not always possible.

Years ago the police were the only community service available children who were abused. Today other units are utilized to provide this service and acknowledge the entire community’s concern. Many communities have a variety of medical and social agencies to help abused children, and many use a multidisciplinary team to address the problem. This team includes:

•  representatives of medicine
•  mental health counselors, psychiatrists and psychologists
•  law enforcement
•  social services department representatives
•  the local child protection agency

When a child comes under protective custody as a result of the intervention of these agencies, he is taken into a receiving home. This place is considered a waiting center while the investigation proceeds. The goal is to place the child with a close relative, but if this is impossible or does not work out, a foster home may be chosen. If the foster home does not work out, a group home may be used. Each community must be aware of local conditions and problems in order to create opportunities that best meet the community’s needs.

Joycelyn Elders, the outspoken former U.S. Surgeon General, said, “The root of the problem,” which she characterized as a public health concern, “lies in the dysfunctional community.” She added, “It is often easier for some to obtain a gun than it is to find a good friend, a good teacher, a good school or even a good minister to talk to.”

One of the most valuable assets a child can have is a connection with a caring adult. Parents need to talk to their children, read to their children, and take them to the library, the zoo, museums, and theatrical productions.

Child abuse caseworker burnout often impedes prevention programs, and a major priority should be that directors keep workers from becoming overwhelmed. “Two years is the longest our workers stay,” says the head of one Washington program. Another program director states, “Everyone gets burnout at times; it is important to know what to do about it.”

Some suggestions for employers to avoid employee burnout are:

•  providing activities that enhance mutual support
•  encouraging positive interaction among the workers
•  training and education that provide information to help workers deal effectively with their clients
•  rotating work assignments
•  giving liberal vacations
•  providing mental health days
•  setting goals and letting the worker see the progress
•  diversifying caseloads, so that one worker is not overloaded with abuse cases

Homeless Children
The number of homeless people increases every day in the United States, and today there is a significantly higher number of homeless children than has occurred in the past. According to some observations, there has never been a generation of children less prepared to face adult life than the generation growing up today, as they constantly experience neglect from adults and lack fulfillment of basic needs.

Children who are homeless have no emotional security because they lack warmth, stable living conditions and inconsistent nourishment. These children suffer poor child care and most of them fail to make it through the educational system. The homeless child is also in grave danger of physical attack and injury. Many live wherever it is convenient, such as in cars or under bridges. Many communities may serve warm meals and some open up shelters on cold winter nights, but it is not enough to give families the security they need.

Many homeless families have working adults who spend long hours laboring for low wages away from home and unable to care for their children.

Such situations also contribute to the instability of marriages, further enhancing the lack of emotional nurturing the children require.

Day Care
The time when the mother stayed home and had milk and cookies waiting for the child when they arrived home from school is gone. Even if there is a father in the household, it takes the salaries of both to maintain it. The majority of children are experiencing child care as a replacement to parental care during most of their formative years. Concerned, careful parents choose a child-care center based on the pleasantness of the environment, the location and hours of operation, and the cost.

The physical needs of a baby include food and someone to feed them, clean diapers, and sleep. The newborn doesn’t care who fulfills these needs, just that these needs are met. The relationship of the infant with the parents or the caregiver is important in promoting healthy development in the growth of the child.

At the age of one, the child’s central bond is with his mother. This is a time of loving attachment and when the child gains his sense of trust of others. Once he feels that the world is a safe, wonderful place, he is ready to explore and learn. He needs to know that someone is always there to give him the protection and security he needs and wants. Each child is unique and will need nurturing at his own pace.

Infants and toddlers are vulnerable to infection and injury. They need responsible adults to keep them safe and in sound health.

The physical conditions of the day-care center will have long-range effects on the child. Are there enough caregivers in the center to meet each of the child’s needs promptly? The furniture and toys should be appropriate to the child’s age and education, and on the whole the program should be appropriate in this way and allow for the individual needs of each child.

Communication between the parent and the caregivers should be maintained. Many large companies have established a child-care center in or near the workplace. The benefit of this is the ease and nearness of the parent to the child. It also cuts down on the distance of travel.

Good care is the right of every child. All caregivers should receive appropriate training, including classroom work and on-site supervision. They should be trained to recognize the needs of children. The caregiver must be a partner with the parent in the development of the child’s growth.

Many parents do not have the choice of an adequate childcare center, because one is not available in their community or they cannot afford one. This is where our government must step in to provide this service.

There have been many horror stories of abuse of children under someone else’s care. Parents must be vigilant and alert to a child’s behavior in order to detect instances of abuse.

Andy: “I am very careful who I leave in charge of my children. They are my valuable possession.”

Foster Homes
A foster home is a private home with a family. The foster home passes a rigorous investigation into its ability to care for another child and undergoes a scrutiny of its morals. Foster parents are paid a fee for their services.

The theory behind the foster home program is that the child will be raised in a family atmosphere. The majority of these homes are owned by wonderful caring people, but there are stories of abuse at some others. The investigation and monitoring is much more stringent today.

Sometimes the welfare agency makes a horrible decision in returning a child to his parents.

A two year old boy from Chicago was taken our of the foster home and returned to his natural mother. Two days later she murdered him with an electric cord.

Sometimes the best thing to do for a child isn’t always visible. A half-million children are not in government-funded substitute care; seventy-five percent of them are placed in foster homes.

There is a cry in our nation and from our government that a person should not bring a child into existence if she cannot provide for it. Women who have children they cannot support and are not fit to raise them should have these children taken away from them.

“Will you be my mommy, I want to go home with you” was the cry heard by police as they arrived at a small apartment and found nineteen children living in a squalor they found hard to imagine. These children were parented by six mothers who were collecting $5,496 a month from the welfare agency.

Most people don’t believe that any action can be done soon about this problem, but that it will ultimately be remedied. The current welfare system, some individuals have concluded, has discouraged recipients to find work. What is proposed by the current government is that women find a job and get off welfare within a two year period.

Another proposal is to provide free day care to allow these mothers to work. Across the country, welfare case workers argue that most recipients want to work, but cannot because of the lack of decently paying jobs.

The third generation of people living on welfare prevents its own children from advancing themselves. Nearly a third of all children in the the United States are born out of wedlock, and these children are deprived of living a life with the guidance of a father.

Group Homes
There are homes in some communities that take children the rest of the world doesn’t want. Some states’ last hope of keeping the child out of jail is a group home. These are the “throw-away children” who have been rescued from dumpsters, children who have been locked up or girls who have been raped.

These children have had a life of abuse, neglect and abandonment. “They've been kicked one two many times and are emotionally traumatized.” These homes try to give the child something which they have never had – a stable home.

A group home usually has eight to ten children living in a small house, and within the neighborhood in which it is contained, it is often as inconspicuous as possible. Inside the house there will be a large bulletin board with duties assigned to the children and reminders that all the children living in the house are a community. These children are taught to live with others without the fear of being yelled at, tortured or hurt. There are usually two or more adults in the house supervising the children twenty-four hours a day. Time is allotted for school, shop, exercise, creativity, household chores and therapy. Counselors are available for the most troubled children.

Few of these children know what it is like to live in a quiet, organized home where everyone works together and lives harmoniously. “Caring people fed and clothed and hugged during the years my family could not,” some children say later in life. These children have been passed from parents to relatives to friends like yesterday’s newspaper.

Jake:“I had the biggest hole in my stomach the day I was taken to the home, but in the end it was the best that could be done for me.”

Alan:“Where would I be today without them?”

These children are the survivors of beatings, immersion in hot water, cigarette burns, screams, curses and general mental and physical torture; they are abandoned and called worthless by their parents.

Jake’s father was addicted to drugs and his mother was an alcoholic. They were so confused and stoned all of the time they were unable to take care of their three children. The state intervened and put the children in a foster home. Many foster homes are fine, but this one was just as abusive as the home Jake had left, and he suffered more abuse than anyone could endure. He became an angry and violent little boy, and when he was nine years old he was placed in a group home. He was taught discipline and given love, as well as being taught a skilled trade. Today he owns an auto repair shop, is married and has three children. However, he knows he is at risk for alcoholism and has the potential to abuse his own children. “My family history is abuse of drugs and alcohol and, I know that I have to steer clear of them.”

Mark used to drink alcohol, smoke marijuana, steal and run with the wrong crowd. “I know I have to join a new group of people and find new goals,” he says. “Most of the time I feel sorry for myself, yet I know I am better off here in the group home than any other place.”

The children are read to and made to feel valuable doing chores. There is therapy to focus on dealing with anger and gaining self-esteem. Negative messages in their heads are deprogrammed.

There are no quick fixes for these children. One of the counselors at such a home said, “It is great to know you have done something to help these children. Someone finally gains their trust and makes a difference in their lives.” One of the goals is to teach these children to live with others and most of all themselves.

The first orphanage was founded in North America in 1729 by Ursuline nuns. Indians had massacred the adult settlers at Natchez, Mississippi, and many of the children were left without parents.

By the year 1859, New York state had twenty-seven orphanages. The Civil War increased the number of orphans, and many of them were crowded into orphanages, served poor meals and forced to work eight to nine hours a day. Hence at that time orphanages grew out of favor.

Today, because there are so many needs of neglected children, there is a proposed welfare reform bill to allow state governments to use federal funds to establish orphanages. Those in favor of this bill argue that America must intervene to save the children of the drug-dependent poor. However, only very large orphanages can handle the increase of children in this system. The fathers of these children are nonexistent and the mothers are incapable of caring for the child. Politicians who are in favor of orphanages say “it is better than a dumpster.” Eight hundred babies were left in dumpsters in Washington, D.C. last year.

Why are so many abandoning their newborn infants? Many teenaged girls think being pregnant will help keep their boyfriends or think babies are simply “cute.” Later the girl panics, realizes that she cannot care for the baby and disposes of it.

Many persons agree that well-run orphanages are better than the present nightmare. It seems that the failed programs of the past also are unable to work in the present.
Many people have come forward and praised the life they had in orphanages:

Gene:“We had baseball, basketball and swimming. I know I never would have had those things with my mother. She used to beat us all the time.”

The orphanage was a good place to be by any standard that some kids today have to endure, especially those who are homeless.

Matt:“There was a peaceful security about living in the orphanage and having a counselor chase away the bogeyman.”

Some people are of the opinion that putting a child in an institution often harms the child’s social and psychological development. The truth is that child abuse and neglect are more harmful.

Mark:“We were well-fed, clothed, educated and disciplined. Most of us appreciate what was done for us. We graduated from high school and turned into decent people.”

Jack:“I go back for our reunions. We laugh and talk and remember and it is a family.”

Family Life and Sex Education
The Children’s Aid Society in New York City, has a program of family life and sex education. The aim of the program is to help inner-city teenaged boys and girls gain some experience and achieve stability before conceiving a life. Furthermore, the children are promised that upon graduation from high school they will receive admission to Hunter College in New York with full tuition paid. The goal is to reduce teenage pregnancy, particularly by helping teens realize that they are valuable and thus reducing the inclination to be sexually irresponsible. Ten cities around the United States have developed this program.

Though the program includes classes in sex education and family planning, the focus is upon gaining skills that will lead to a life of stability and regular employment. Most middle-class youths are very interested in their future and understand that a pregnancy will interfere with these plans.

Studies indicate that poor children who start out with only one parent will almost certainly stay poor, but there is now a trend in public policy to change that statistic. A program called Progressive Policy proposes a structured, supportive environment that will allow a teenaged mother to move out of an “abusive or unstable situation.” Also, teens would be offered long-term financial help as long as they stay in school and don’t become a parent.

These programs are structured to give a young person a good start in life and to break the cycle of early parenthood with its frustration and stress that can lead to being an abusive parent.

Military Families
Many people are employed by or are serving in the military, and their families live in or around the military base. The growing number of families seeking help from these bases for problems of child abuse is exceeding treatment resources at these facilities. An article in Time magazine (May 23, 1994) quotes a study made at the University of New Hampshire that says troops trained to fight are more likely to batter children.

Child abuse among military personnel is on the rise. The Pentagon has created a child death review task force to probe into the deaths of all children of parents in the United States military. Compared with civilian society, the military population is younger and drawn from lower socioeconomic ranks and consequently may be more violence-prone. Alcohol abuse is usually high as well. Abuse also tends to escalate at a military base that is scheduled to shut down, as parents are worried about their careers and their finances.

Television and Violence
Many neighborhoods in large cities in the United States are dangerous and depressing, the sites of urban decay and continual violence. Much of this violence is committed by children and teenagers upon adults and each other. Some people blame the violence on television for the cruelty of some children toward other children.

Researchers have proved that children are impressionable, imitative and act out what they see. Children who watch action-adventure TV programs are more likely to be aggressive in school. Not everyone who watches children’s television agrees. They say the storyteller is never responsible for the actions of the person who hears it, and further mention that if watching television caused children to act in this way, these kinds of incidents would be happening every day. Others say that sometimes a child’s behavior is enhanced by a cultural environment in which children are encouraged to prefer violence to problem-solving in situations.

Some communities are promoting programs called “wraparound services” where volunteers provide love and attention to neglected children in the neighborhood. These volunteers take the children to the zoo, skating rink, the museum and swimming pools in season. Neglected inner-city children are taken to families’ homes in the suburbs for a week’s vacation and given the time and attention that they need.

Everyone in a community has the chance to volunteer some time to make a difference in a child’s life.

The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN) awards grants to states for assistance in developing child abuse prevention programs.

A community must have a program and trust fund established for a year before they are eligible to obtain a grant.

NCCAN conducts research into the causes, prevention of and treatment for child abuse and neglect.

One out of every four females and one out of every six males will experience inappropriate sexual contact.

All children need to attend a child abuse prevention program.

Poverty is a risk factor in the abuse of a child.

Each community must be aware of local conditions and problems and create and plan opportunities that best meet the community’s needs.

The number of homeless women with children continues to increase.

Adequate day-care centers are a necessity today.

When a child is abandoned or neglected, we all pay the cost of it.

A foster home is a private home with a family.

Group homes take the “throwaway children” and provide them with education, therapy and love.

Orphanages may be a way to take care of a large number of children who have no other place to live.