April is Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness to the issues of child abuse and neglect in our county.
This weekly column about parenting issues is written by local early childhood experts. It publishes on Mondays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.
As our community continues struggling with the loss of two children in 12 months who allegedly had died at a parent’s hands, we try to make sense of something that is senseless.
How could this have happened here in Routt County? There are so many questions left unanswered.
When tragedy occurs, it is natural that we ask questions. Inevitably, those questions lead to blame as our minds desperately seek to organize information, rationalize it and provide assurance that if we just “fix” the problem, it never will happen again. This process is important in helping us cope with such heart-wrenching events. However, we must keep perspective.
There are numerous resources in our community for parents who are struggling. Many children receive partial or full financial child care assistance through the Department of Human Services, child care centers and other community agencies.
The Routt County Child Welfare Unit receives hundreds of calls each year from individuals, including parents, with various concerns and requests. Every call is assessed by our team for services. In many cases, our department provides ongoing counseling and case management to families in need of support.
Risk and safety drive every decision. Our department is bound by legal statutes that require us to maintain the delicate balance between child safety and the rights of parents.
The Department of Human Services needs to be notified when people have child abuse or neglect concerns. We recognize that taking the step to report abuse or neglect can pose a personal dilemma for some people. Worries people often express include:
• The parents will find out that I reported and will be angry with me.
• I don’t want to be responsible for a child being removed from his or her home.
• I don’t want to get involved.
Our department has legal responsibilities to protect reporting party information. Routt County strives to maintain children in their homes whenever possible.
It is hard to predict how the report may end up impacting the child, but outside involvement often results in serving as a protective factor.
There is no question, reporting parties have saved the lives of countless numbers of children across our country. They are family members, neighbors, friends, mentors, landlords, teachers, pastors, tutors … the list goes on.
Reporting is one thing, but there is another way that we can all help to prevent child abuse and neglect. We can reach out to support those around us who appear to be struggling. If we see an exasperated parent yelling or getting rough with his/her child, we can ask how we can be helpful in that moment.
Remember that we are all human. We often do not know the extent of what is going on in people’s lives.
In each of our darkest moments, we have been angry or depressed, perhaps, to a point at which we were not pleasant to be around. When someone is presenting in this way, we can find ways to reach out to that person with care and understanding.
Desperate people feel isolated. They need empathy and compassion. They need to know that they are not alone. A kind word and a listening ear are the best ways to defuse a tense situation.
In honor of all victims of child abuse, let us come together as a community. Let us accept that each of us plays an integral role in protecting the children of Routt County.
To report suspected child abuse or neglect, call 970-870-5533 and ask for the caseworker on call. For after-hours emergencies, call 970-879-1090.
This article was authored by the Child Protection Unit of the Routt County Department of Human Services. Human Services is one of the founding agencies of the First Impressions Early Childhood Council, which was formalized in 1997.
Michael L. Sidinger is the assistant director of the Routt County Department of Human Services.