By JENIFER JARRIEL
Texas Press Association
One of the most important responsibilities that all of us have – as individuals, families and communities – is to ensure the safety of the children in our lives and throughout our community. As we recognize National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, we must also recognize the urgency of strengthening families and equipping communities with the services needed to prevent abuse from ever occurring.
In 2022, there were 56,944 victims of abuse or neglect in Texas. This harrowing number highlights the need to not only provide care and treatment for those children who have suffered the trauma of maltreatment, but also to deploy services that can keep children safe in their families by preventing abuse from happening in the first place.
Nationally, there has been a recent bipartisan move toward prevention programs that aim to keep families together. Those of us who work in the child welfare space go about this mission with a variety of programs and services that have been proven to work, such as:
- Providing free counseling to families and children that need it, including in the school setting.
- Inviting parents to participate in classes and workshops that teach them strategies for managing children’s behaviors and help them parent in positive and constructive ways.
- Treating substance abuse and other conditions that can disrupt families.
- Supporting extended families as they navigate their way through various support systems.
The need for these types of services always outpaces the funding available to provide them. In fact, the demand for in-home services is increasing in Texas because recent legislation has dramatically decreased the number of children being removed from their homes. This is why it’s important for federal and state legislators to continue to make funding available for prevention services. Helping families manage and overcome their struggles causes far less trauma – and is far less expensive for taxpayers – than removing children from their homes and placing them into the foster care system.
That said, there are times when removal from the birth family is necessary for the safety of the child, which is why another key component of keeping children safe is maintaining a strong network of well-vetted, well-trained foster families who can provide temporary care and, when reunification with the birth family is not possible, can create forever families through adoption. However, stepping forward to provide foster care is one way that individuals and couples can help ensure that children can have safe and loving homes.
Becoming a foster family is a major commitment, but there are other ways that we can help contribute to children’s safety and the prevention of maltreatment. For starters, we can raise awareness of child abuse and neglect this month by displaying blue ribbons to honor victims. We can contribute to programs and causes that help struggling families meet their basic needs, from food to paying the rent.
Texans should also remember that it is not only the job of teachers, health care professionals or social workers to report abuse. If you know, for example, that a child is exposed to domestic violence or children sustain suspicious injuries or injuries that are not getting the medical attention they need, do not hesitate to call the Texas Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400.
Those of us in the fields of child safety and welfare continue seeking the most effective possible programs and services to prevent the maltreatment of children. We understand that positive parenting comes more naturally to some than it does to others, which is why we approach prevention from a place of support rather than judgment. In April and throughout the year, we are committed to preventing the abuse and neglect of children – and we are heartened to know that we are not alone.
Jenifer Jarriel is president and CEO of Houston-based DePelchin Children’s Center, which provides a variety of programs and services focused on supporting and sustaining children and the families who care for them. Learn more at https://www.depelchin.org.