We all have a role to play in protecting children

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When the horrors of child maltreatment, torture, sexual abuse, or starvation strike our community, we tend to quickly look for someone to blame. The recent deaths of two 16-year-old girls in Central Iowa, Natalie Finn and Sabrina Ray, underscore the value each of us has in weaving a safety net that strengthens families and protects Iowa kids.

We all have a role to play in the development of our children. This includes becoming involved in situations where children’s well-being is or can be jeopardized. Our responsibility cannot be outsourced to a single agency or department, and we must hold those who victimize our children accountable.

Fifty-six percent of adults in Iowa report experiencing some type of abuse or household dysfunction growing up according to Iowa’s 2016 Adverse Childhood Experiences data.

The traumas of neglect, physical, sexual or emotional abuse, domestic violence or substance abuse in the home during childhood have lifelong impact on the victim. The removal of a child from a parent is also traumatic, no matter the circumstances. Prioritizing prevention in our policies and funding — at the state, federal and local level — can help break the intergenerational cycle of abuse.

Public-private partnerships have never been more necessary in our state.

Certainly the loss of these two young ladies and the trauma their siblings endured are a call to examine policies on home schooling and foster and adoptive family oversight in Iowa. We are one of 11 states that does not require families to register home-school students with their local school district. We are one of 24 states that has yet to pass Erin’s Law requiring public schools to implement child sexual abuse prevention programs that teach safe body practices to youth and help parents and teachers identify the warning signs of sexual abuse and how to respond. Contacting legislators helps them know you support evidence-based prevention programs and policies that safeguard our children.

More than 5,800 children were in foster care in Iowa in 2015. Sen. Chuck Grassley and other Iowa congressional leaders are champions of the Family First Prevention Services Act that improves flexibility in federal child welfare funding (Title IV-E) to Iowa’s Department of Human Services, providing more supports for children before entering foster care and updating requirements of foster care oversight and accountability. More access to prevention services reduces the number of children unnecessarily placed in foster care. This federal legislation, along with the Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting reauthorization, are opportunities to invest in prevention in our state.

Safeguarding our kids requires a personal investment in the life of a child and not just our own child, but also the children of our neighbors, faith family or co-workers. Connections matter. Relationships help us cope, heal us, build trust and are a sanctuary when in times of stress. Invest in the lives of kids in your community. Mentor a teen, get to know your neighbors, build the sort of trusting relationships that empower a community.

Knowing the signs of abuse or neglect is everyone’s responsibility. Lack of adequate supervision, poor hygiene, sudden fears of being touched, low body weight, unusual knowledge of sexual matters, burns, cuts, or bruises, may all be signs of abuse. Child victims are often traumatized and afraid to come forward. Listen to a child. If you are unsure about whether to make an official report or just need support, contact an Iowa child advocacy center at (515) 401-9897 that can help evaluate your suspicions or report directly to the Department of Human Services at (800) 362-2178.

A teacher recently reminded me, every child is one caring adult away from being a success story. Be that child’s life saver!

• Liz Cox is executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Iowa. Coments: lcox@pcaiowa.org

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