By Qin Sun Stubis
It may have been April Fools Day when he made the presidential proclamation, but Barack Obama was deadly serious. He spoke as a concerned father, responsible American and a leader who cares about our children. His mission was to remind the country to observe April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
“Every child deserves a nurturing family and a safe environment,” the. President said. “Tragically, sexual, emotional and physical abuse threatens too many children every day in communities across our nation.”
While many Americans share his viewpoint, some don’t realize how widespread the problem is and even when they do suspect a problem in the family of a relative or neighbor don’t know what to do about it.
Child abuse and neglect are not always apparent, especially in these tough times when the small voices of children are easily drowned out by other concerns. As some parents struggle with their jobs and finances, they are immersed in their own problems and can become less attentive guardians. Worse, some are bound to take some tension home where it will be released within the family. At the very time American families need more educational and social services to protect our children, more funding has been cut and fewer programs are in place. The families of the down-and-out are too often left to fend for themselves.
Few parents ever admit to abusing or neglecting their children. Many readily explain away their physical or verbal abuse as teaching kids a lesson. No big deal, some say. I overreacted. I love my kids. And perhaps it’s true, although no less hurtful. Other parents may have to leave their children at home alone so they can go out and search for work. All of us have seen, known or heard of such situations, but what can you do if you suspect a family is in trouble and wants to help?
The American Humane Association (AHA), a not-for-profit organization, has been a guardian angel for America’s children and animals for the past 134 years. One of its efforts has been to launch a national, research-supported, community-based child abuse prevention initiative called “The Front Porch Project.”
This project calls for and teaches all concerned and caring adults to become actively involved in protecting children and supporting families in their neighborhoods. According to the AHA, 95 percent of participants who took part in The Front Porch Project Community Training agreed that they feel more comfortable intervening with struggling parents or families and are more likely to intervene.
Child welfare professionals are working at full capacity to protect our nation’s children, but it’s clear that the problem is too great and too important to be delegated entirely to these valiant workers. American Humane Association believes that each member of a community can – and should – become more aware of and involved in helping protect children and support families to prevent abuse and neglect before it occurs. That is why in 1997, American Humane Association created an innovative initiative called The Front Porch Project®.
The Front Porch Project is a national, research-supported, community-based initiative built upon the belief that all people who are concerned about the safety and well-being of children in their communities need to be encouraged and taught to make a difference. This concept is much the same as a good neighbor sitting on the “front porch” who, in years past, would have been aware of and involved in solving problems affecting families they knew. American front porches were more than convenient sitting places; they served as networking centers where concerned friends could share information and devise support systems to help each other through difficult times.
Our problems today obviously stem from far more complex issues than the architectural decline of front porches, yet there is great benefit in recapturing that sense of responsibility for the welfare of children that many of us have relinquished. The Front Porch Project advocates for becoming involved in each other’s lives, recognizing the power of one person in making a significant difference in the life of a child, and applying strategies for intervening when necessary to help protect children and assist families.
Using a capacity-building approach involving training, technical assistance, and evaluation, American Humane Association helps local organizations implement and sustain The Front Porch Project in their communities. The Front Porch Project is a standout national prevention initiative because of its unique focus on educating and empowering concerned citizens on the role they can have in protecting children and supporting families. Evaluation results have shown that 95% of participants who participated in The Front Porch Project Community Training, the heart and soul of this initiative, agreed that they feel more comfortable intervening with struggling parents or families and are more likely to intervene than before the training. Empowering everyone to intervene early, The Front Porch Project helps ensure that all children in our communities will grow up with the health development they need to become stable, contributing adults.
This year, with an ever-shrinking government budget, louder outcries of our needy children and families, and sharper cuts of our social services, April has arrived with more poignancy: I call upon my readers to take America’s future into our own hands. While “The Front Porch Project” may not be available in every neighborhood, we still can become active participants of National Child Abuse and Prevention Month, whether becoming a friend to our neighborhood children, educating ourselves to know the signs of child abuse and neglect, or providing young parents next door with emotional and other support to alleviate the pressures on their family. After all, if we don’t protect America’s future, who will?
To learn more and support efforts to prevent child abuse visit: www.americanhumane.org , http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/presidential-proclamation-national-child-abuse-prevention-month , and http://www.childwelfare.gov/Preventing
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