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Editorial: Prevention is the key to ending child abuse

We need to take care of our children. We need to keep them safe and care for them. We need to do this but we know it’s not happening in every household. We know problems of abuse, neglect and other family issues that damage our children exist in our communities.  It’s down the street and around the block. Abuse is not reserved for a certain part of town or across the tracks.

Abuse and neglect is there but sometimes too often it’s easy to ignore.

April is Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month and as we near the end of the month the call for awareness and action is needed now as much as any other time. We need to take care of our children and it goes far beyond a month in April.

People all around us have issues and family problems that lead to child abuse and neglect. These arise for any number of reasons and services are available to help families through the struggles. We have to keep our children in mind and a top priority.

End the abuse, end the neglect. Get help.

Too often, children die or are seriously injured at the hands of those who are meant to love and care for them.

Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper writes: Our first question is always, "Why?"

Why did this happen? Why would someone hurt a child? Why didn’t someone do something to help?

When 25,000 children are abused and neglected in Minnesota in a year, we have a serious problem. When even one of those children dies, it’s a tragedy. Sadly, nearly half of abuse and neglect victims are children age 5 and under – those who are least able to defend themselves.

Prevention takes the hard work and diligence of those around us, people we entrust with our children. Teachers, day care providers and friends all help in recognizing problems. We trust in them to report issues.

Piper states that families, communities, neighborhoods and government have the power to stop these tragedies. Prevention is the key to ending child abuse and neglect. With it, we can stop people from striking, pushing, throwing, belittling, neglecting and sexually abusing children. With it, we can save children’s lives.

Minnesota Department of Human Services is rethinking the way it handles child protection cases.

Piper points out the need to work with counties, tribes and community partners to build a child protection system focused on compassion for those who are struggling to raise their children and understanding the triggers that can lead to abuse and neglect.

Agencies are trying to step in early enough to prevent abuse before it happens with the Parent Support Outreach Program, a voluntary program that provides support to families experiencing stresses. Also, Help Me Grow, a joint effort with the departments of Health and Education that helps families understand children’s developmental milestones.

As Piper writes of the work of Minnesota DHS, she notes the state is pursuing other promising practices and strategies to include involving parents in improving the child protection system, revising child maltreatment guidelines and best practices for 1,200 child protection workers statewide.

They want to determine how to best respond to families dealing with domestic violence and child maltreatment issues, and developing new tools to help social workers better meet the needs of children facing trauma in their lives.

There is progress, as Piper notes, but there is a long way to go to build a child protection system focused on prevention.