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On Wednesday, we looked at a serious problem facing the Ozarks: a culture of child abuse. In the second part of our two-part series, KSMU’s Matt Evans will look into what some programs in the Ozarks are doing to combat the problem.
There are many organizations in the Ozarks that aim to eradicate a culture of child abuse. Experts say it takes awareness and prevention efforts.
The Community Partnership of the Ozarks is a not for profit organization that has over 50 community programs and serves 21 counties in Southwest Missouri. Melissa Haddow is the executive director of the Community Partnership.
“Our motto is that we build resilient children, healthy families, and strong communities. And if you are really going to achieve those outcomes, you must look at the issue of child abuse and neglect.”
Some of the programs at Community Partnership that are geared at preventing child abuse include parenting classes and mandated child abuse reporter training. But Haddow says those programs are just a few of the ones that can help prevent child abuse. Community Partnership also offers G.E.D. classes and budgeting classes. But how can a budgeting class help prevent child abuse?
“If we can help them to manage whatever amounts of money they have, that will reduce their stress. If you reduce their stress hopefully we will reduce the chance that they will abuse their children.”
Haddow says she’s seen some great results from the parenting classes she’s taught.
“I’ve had parents and grandparents make the comment: ‘Thank you so much, I stopped hitting her. I used to hit her, but I don’t hit her anymore.’”
The Hope Project, a parenting support group that brings together homeless parents, is another program supported by Community Partnership.
A parent at a recent “Hope Project” meeting named Meghan says the class caused her to think more carefully about how she interacts with her child. She says she used to spank her child, but now thinks it’s wrong.
“You know, spanking my child isn’t going to help anything. If anything she was going to school and hitting her friends. And I couldn’t figure out where on earth she was getting that from.”
Another program in the community that offers tools that can help prevent child abuse is Parents as Teachers. Parents as Teachers is a state-funded program that is designed to help parents prepare their children for kindergarten. Trained parent educators like Susan McNeal meet with parents and their children in the home.
McNeal (to mother): You joined about this time last year. So we’ve had four appointments together. I feel like we’ve just got acquainted and now (both laugh). And I don’t even remember if you told me why you hadn’t enrolled earlier if you didn’t know about the program.Mother: Well I knew about the program, but I didn’t know the effect, the impact it would have.
The mother and McNeal talk about the boy who sits at the table, impatiently waiting for McNeal to open up the game she’s brought.
McNeal brings out a rhyming game that she plays with the boy.
The goal of these kinds of meetings is to help parents understand more about their child’s development and behavior. What may appear to be a child misbehaving is actually an expected behavior, based on the child’s age or stage of development. McNeal explains how the program can help prevent abuse.
“Our belief is that if we can give that parent a good understanding of why that child is acting that way and of the developmental stage that their child is in and if we can give that parent strategies to deal with that difficult situation then the parent will have a better chance of staying calm and get through that rough time.”
Any parent can join the Parents as Teachers program from the time their child is born until their child enters kindergarten.
McNeal says home visits help build rapport with families and make them feel comfortable. Families that participate in Parents as Teachers may or may not be considered “at risk” for abuse. Either way, McNeal says the goal is the same: to teach parents how to have appropriate expectations of their kids.
“They trust us, they know we are there to help them, so we are the ones they open up to and that’s a good thing. And hopefully we are catching some child abuse before it ever happens.”
Both the Community Partnership of the Ozarks and Parents as Teachers help prevent child abuse in the Ozarks. The program Red Wagon Kids is aimed at raising awareness of the problem of child abuse and neglect. The program started in 2007 as an outgrowth from the Mayor’s Summit on Children. The program focuses on raising awareness through various public service announcements on local radio and television stations, flyers at local businesses, and posters throughout Springfield.
The Red Wagon Kids program focuses around what it calls “the five promises.” Every child needs caring adults, safe places, a healthy start, an effective education, and opportunities to help others.
These programs are just a handful of the many programs in the Ozarks dedicated to eradicating the culture of child abuse.
For KSMU News, I’m Matt Evans.