April marks the annual recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month around the country. Sadly, Alaska is ranked third in the country as having the highest rates of child maltreatment per capita by the Federal Children’s Bureau 2009 report. Child abuse is considered to be one of our country’s most serious public health problems. There is well-documented research that outlines the distinct links between child abuse and a wide range of medical, emotional, psychological and behavioral disorders including depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, obesity, juvenile delinquency and the need for special education services.
Safe children, strong families is the vision of the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) whose statutory charge is to respond to reports of abuse and neglect and provide safe haven for those children who cannot remain safely in their own home. Foster care, while a necessary and important method for ensuring child safety, cannot replace birth parents. Year after year we see children return to their parents the moment they are able to do so because the parent-child bonds are so strong. There is no replacing the biological family of origin, nor is that the answer for most of the children who enter the system. At OCS, we seek to keep children safe while strengthening the parent’s protective capacities and the surrounding resources that support them in order to make the family whole again as quickly as it is safe to do so.
Preventing and responding to child abuse must be a community wide effort, OCS cannot do it alone. What can you do to help?
• Remember that children are our future and their early development and success have an enormous impact on their future health and success. Investing the time, energy, and resources now will save our society in the future.
• Recognize that prevention is a shared responsibility. Parenting is truly the toughest job out there and as a community we are responsible for ensuring families have access to the support, information and services they need to succeed.
• Speak up about the issue of prevention. Don’t wait until the next tragedy, act now. Reporting suspected abuse could save a life. Advocate and support prevention services in your community.
• Reach out to children and their parents. Offering donations (time, clothing, and skills), providing support and kindness can go a long way in the lives of families who are struggling.
• Recommend and support opportunities for community based family activities, networks, services, and crisis management.
In Alaska, every 33 minutes a child is reported to OCS due to allegations of abuse or neglect. Forty percent of these alleged victims are children age 6 and under. We can reduce these alarming statistics if we work together and collectively refuse to settle for anything less than the best for all children in our great state.
For more information on OCS and related topics, please visit our website at http://hss.state.ak.us/ocs/.
• Lawton is the acting director of the Office of Children’s Services.