This month is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and for many years Oregon and other states relied on bringing children into foster care as the best answer to keep them safe when they had been victims of abuse and neglect at the hands of their parents or other adults in the home. Today, I want to share a guest op-ed Lois Day is submitting to newspapers across the state for Child Abuse Prevention Month and to highlight the new work Oregon is doing to ensure children are safe and families are strong and supported. Thank you and have a great week.
- - - -
Child Abuse Prevention Month: Support Services Protect Children & Help Build Strong Families Message from Lois Ann D ay, Child Welfare Director, Oregon Department of Human Services April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. It is always an important recognition for the state Child Welfare system. Changes in our system are enhancing the options available for interacting with families, and I am energized to talk about a different message.
Oregonians are often surprised to learn that neglect of children, failure of parents to meet children’s basic needs, is the most prevalent reason families come to the attention of child welfare. In Oregon, neglect is statutorily defined as abuse and it is the largest category of founded allegations of abuse.
Specifically, neglect is defined as a failure of a child’s caretaker to adequately protect a child from harm. It is the inability of parents to meet their children’s basic needs. Neglect can include an ongoing pattern of serious neglect by a parent or caregiver, and the pattern can often be corrected only to repeat over the same or new concerns. When it reoccurs, it is most often a result of parents being unable to access services that would help them out of the situation that is challenging their efforts to parent. More than 60% of all incidents of child abuse in Oregon are because of neglect or threat of harm.
Neglect is most often accompanied by several risk factors: extreme poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse and mental illness of parent/child. Neglect is harmful for children and families, it causes trauma that has lasting impact on children that is increasingly difficult to mitigate. And that accumulated trauma stresses the scarce resources of the state.
We must ask ourselves: isn’t there a better way to engage families struggling with these issues? Can we intervene with families earlier? Can we actually engage with families in a way that empowers them to identify their needs and take steps to ensure their children’s safety and continue to parent them while addressing the issues that brought them to the attention of the child welfare system? Can we implement a child welfare system that supports parents to make decisions that keep their children at home rather than placement in foster care?
We can and we are. Oregon is in the process of implementing a Differential Response model that can transform child welfare's engagement with families and in many cases (with the right support services), keep children safely at home. During the 2013 session, the Oregon Legislature and Governor Kitzhaber took up the challenge, too. The final budget provided an increase of $92.7 million in total funds in Child Welfare programs to further earlier assistance for families.
Part of the investment was $23.7 million in total funds for statewide implementation of Strengthening, Preserving and Reunifying Families programs. These programs, created by the legislature in 2011, are statutorily designed to provide a broad array of services to support families and keep children safely at home. Concrete supports are needed to address the underlying issues that lead to neglect. These supports include services that meet families’ basic needs, such as food, housing, transportation and employment. In more advanced cases, the need is for services such as drug/alcohol treatment, mental health treatment, parenting support and skill-building. Providing these services in a culturally appropriate manner enhances the family’s chances at successfully addressing their challenges.
Across the state, we are working in collaboration with local communities to enhance the service array. These services are to specifically address needs of children and families who come to the attention of Child Welfare through a report of abuse or neglect. Examples of the types of services communities are putting in place are family meeting facilitation; trauma and therapeutic services; enhanced family visitation; youth transition and mentoring services; intensive in-home services; parent navigators; parenting education and classes; parent mentoring and coaching; relief nurseries; housing stability assistance; emergency and short term housing supports; and employment assistance.
In May, Child Welfare will begin providing a new route for families to connect to these services. Differential Response is a redesign of the child welfare system's initial response for families with a screened in report of abuse or neglect. With a differentiated response system, there will be two tracks of response to families. Regardless of the track of response, all families involved with child welfare will receive a comprehensive child safety assessment by child welfare staff. However, some families, where they are able to keep their children safe, will be offered services without opening a case with child welfare.
Just as every family is unique, the department's approach needs to be flexible enough to serve the family’s needs. Our design includes specific screening criteria to determine the best response to assess families and increase their success in keeping parenting their children safely at home.
Families can more successfully resolve issues when they take an active role in crafting the solution and where they have the opportunity to partner with child welfare and their community in the identification of services and supports needed. Our goal, and the goal of all communities, is to keep children safe and increase the strength and resiliency of families. During Child Abuse Prevention Month, we want to recognize the essential support families and children have received from Oregon’s Legislators and Governor Kitzhaber. We are particularly grateful to have the opportunity to undertake this important work.