Child Welfare Initiatives—and How to Get Involved at the Community Level

By Melissa Neeley, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Adjunct Faculty Member

April was National Child Abuse Prevention Month. All over the country, people wore blue ribbons to raise awareness of the impact child maltreatment has on our society. In 1982, Congress enacted the first National Child Abuse Prevention week in June. The next year, April was proclaimed the first National Child Abuse Prevention month. The blue ribbon campaign began in 1989 when a Virginia grandmother tied a blue ribbon to her vehicle’s antenna in memory of her grandson, who died as a result of abuse. Stemming from that movement, the blue “Pinwheels for Prevention” have also become visible reminders of children affected by abuse. The purpose of the awareness is to promote the understanding that child abuse is preventable. Throughout the nation, communities are pulling together to focus on the prevention of child abuse, which includes strengthening families, supporting parents, and increasing the partnership between families and the community at large.

The Department of Health and Human Services has issued a guide to assist states and communities in redesigning their child welfare systems to form a more cohesive and holistic approach to supporting families. Preventing Child Maltreatment and Promoting Well-Being: A Network for Action 2013 Resource Guide lays out the groundwork for professionals in their aim to assist families in crisis. Stressing the importance of parent education, acknowledgement of cultural differences, awareness of child development, proper stress management techniques, parental social supports, availability of needed services (e.g., mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, domestic violence education, support groups), and finally, but most importantly, a true partnership between parent and professional, the guide stresses that prevention is the answer to ensuring improved outcomes for our nation’s children.

May is National Foster Care Month. On any given day, there are over 400,000 children in our nation’s foster care system. In the same vein as April’s Child Abuse Prevention Month, efforts are underway, nationwide, to build a more holistic child welfare system. Each year, 25,000 to 30,000 children “age out” of foster care. Since the state was their legal guardian, these young adults frequently find themselves braving the adult world on their own. For the past several years, many child welfare agencies have focused on family finding, creating programs and initiatives to help youth explore their family trees and social connections to find meaningful permanent connections with loving adults. These adults can be extended family members, coaches, teachers, church members, family friends, or any other significant adult who has an interest in a young person’s safety, permanency, and well-being. The Internet and social media sites such as Facebook have played a huge role in helping youth find and connect with extended family members who may not have been aware of the child welfare system’s involvement.

There are many ways to get involved and help make a difference in your local child welfare system. You can explore the option of providing a home to a foster child (or better yet, a group of siblings) by becoming a foster parent. You can contact your local Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association or Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) program and inquire about volunteering to be the voice in court for a child in foster care. You can also usually find other opportunities to help in the community—gathering donations, raising awareness, helping to recruit foster and adoptive parents, etc. You can find out more by contacting your local child welfare or foster care agency.