Protecting children is everyone’s business

Published 8:37 pm Saturday, June 4, 2016

This column originally published in 2013.

I’ve written before about my experiences with child abuse as a Children’s Protective Services caseworker, so I’ll spare you the details of what child abuse looks like up close.

But I do want to correct the prevalent misconception that only the poor and uneducated abuse or neglect their children.

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While most of the child abuse cases I dealt with had similar themes — single mothers, poverty, drugs, etc. — some didn’t fit the mold at all.

We responded to reports of abuse and neglect in middle class neighborhoods with college-educated parents. I’ve seen foster parents abuse and neglect the very children they are tasked with protecting.

Child abuse can happen anywhere, so don’t think the people you associate with are exempt. It’s a problem that infects communities everywhere. Hundreds of thousands of children are abused or neglected each year in this country.

But child abuse and neglect is a problem that can be solved. Experts have detailed measures that parents can take to ensure they aren’t harming their children. And there are things the community can do if child abuse or neglect is suspected.

Parenting classes, adequately treating mental health issues and other education measures can reduce instances of child abuse and neglect. But for most of us, preventing child abuse comes down to something fairly simple: loving your children selflessly.

The parents I dealt with as a caseworker would tell me over and over how much they loved their children — even though they had neglected to feed them, or worse had physically injured them.

Part of me didn’t doubt that they loved them. But love isn’t always enough. It takes a commitment to unselfishness to truly protect children. That means making sure their needs are met before your own. It means keeping a job, no matter how menial, so you can put food on the table. It means putting their well-being above your own anger.

Those lessons don’t come easy for parents who have had caseworkers rip children from their arms. But occasionally a parent would own up to their problems, work to correct them, and get custody of their children again. Those parents were the exception, not the norm.

Most parents simply gave up when faced with the daunting task of completing parenting classes, showing up for drug screenings, keeping a job, etc. They were overwhelmed to be sure.

But that was the point. Parenting is overwhelming. Parenting takes commitment. Parenting requires unselfishness. It’s that simple.

Simple isn��t always easy though. If you know of a parent who is struggling to adequately care for his/her child, reach out to that family.  If you know a child is being abused or neglected, report it.

Don’t hide behind the “it’s none of my business” excuse. Protecting children is your business. It’s everyone’s business.

Luke Horton is the publisher of The Daily Leader.