This past week the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors issued a Mission Statement for the recently established Office of Child Protection. It states that “the safety and well-being of all of our children is of highest priority” and highlights the importance of county departments and agencies to work together collaboratively to prevent the neglect or abuse of children. More than anything else, it emphasizes all county efforts must be child- and family-centered and that abuse prevention is not the work of any one group of departments but the responsibility of the whole community.
When children are harmed in any way or vulnerable families are jeopardized, it is easy for us to blame the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) or other public entities for a failure of the system to provide adequate care. The fact of the matter is that a child welfare system as large as Los Angeles County will experience some failures. This is even more reason for the community to recognize that we all have a role to play in keeping children safe. Whether it’s a distant relative, a neighbor, a teacher, or a church member, everyone has the responsibility to safeguard at-risk children.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. This designation serves as an opportunity to call attention locally and nationally to the plight of children and youth who experience the tragedy of neglect and abuse. Every year more than three million reports of child abuse are made in the United States involving more than six million children, according to Childhelp, a national nonprofit advocating for abused and neglected children. A report of a child abuse is made every ten seconds.
At Hillsides we deal with the result of long-term neglect and abuse. The children and youth we serve in our residential program have come to us after a number of failed interventions. As a result, their families have been fractured, their resiliency compromised, and their sense of safety and hope lost. We see the results of these failures in the children’s anxiety, defiance, and skepticism. In this situation, our efforts revolve around assuring children that they will be kept safe and their concerns will be addressed. A consistent environment that is respectful and caring allows children and their families, who have been traumatized, to confront issues that have torn them apart and to begin the process of restoring well-being and hope.
Our dedicated staff can only do so much. As always, we are dependent on so many who help those we serve know that they are indeed a priority, as the mission statement adopted by the Supervisors states. Just this past weekend, a group of actors and film production crews transformed our campus into a filming site to capture the scripts written by a number of residents. These scripts allowed the teens to harness their imagination and vicariously tell stories that subtly reveal their innermost thoughts and emotions. The residents also starred in the movies and were given the responsibility of casting professional actors in roles. Children, who once felt ignored and dismissed, recognized that who they are and what they have to say is important. Everyone involved in the production played a role in assisting children, once jeopardized by abuse and neglect, to move beyond their trauma to embrace a full life.
The work of abuse prevention is done not just by our vigilance but also by our caring attention. Abuse and neglect are prevented not just by professionals dedicated to offering services to vulnerable children and families but by the countless friends, neighbors, and community members who create a safety net whose sole purpose is the protection of all children, especially the most vulnerable.