Every day, 1,900 children in the United States become victims of abuse or neglect, and four of them will die.
Sadly, we have the highest rate of deaths by child abuse of any industrialized nation. Right here in our own communities, we know that there are children whose parents can’t safely care for them because they are struggling with substance abuse – increasingly with opiate addiction – or with mental health issues, incarceration, domestic violence, poverty, or perhaps they need help in learning how to parent, or maybe they’re just overwhelmed and don’t know where to turn. Last year, Vermont’s child protection line received more than 17,000 calls from people concerned about a child’s safety.
At KidSafe Collaborative we believe that protecting children is everyone’s job. As a collaborative organization, working with the University of Vermont Medical Center, state agencies and community-based organizations, we have the privilege of seeing people work hard to keep children safe every day: the teacher who checks in with the first grader who comes to school crying and exhausted; the pediatric sexual assault nurse examiner who responds with a gentle, listening ear to a youngster who has been sexually abused; the grandparents who step in to help care for their grandchildren when the children’s own parents can’t; the parent who struggles to leave an abusive partner in order to keep their child safe; the social worker who works overtime to make sure a stable home is found for three siblings who can’t safely stay at home but want desperately to be together.
Recent tragedies in Vermont have caused us to take another look at our child welfare and court systems to see how we can improve our response to child maltreatment. At the same time, we need to look at what steps we can all take to prevent such tragedies.
- We can educate ourselves about the signs and symptoms of abuse and neglect, and how to report it if we’re concerned about a child;
- We can get to know the kids in our children’s classrooms, and their parents, so we can reach out to help if they are struggling;
- We can find out about resources in our community, and how to get someone help if they need it; and
- We can advocate for funding for support services, substance abuse treatment, counseling, and basic needs for families – these are not “fluff” budget items, they are the cornerstone of healthy families, healthy children.
We know now that the long-term consequences – and the long-term costs – of childhood trauma are staggering. The cost of doing nothing, at the expense of a child, is unacceptable. At KidSafe, we know that it takes all of us, working together, to keep kids safe and well cared for.
Sally Borden, MEd, Executive Director, KidSafe Collaborative. KidSafe, a community non-profit agency based in Burlington, engages our community to work together to improve prevntion of and response to child abuse and neglect. KidSafe convenes the CHARM (Children and Recovering Mothers) team, Child Protection and Family Support Teams, and the KidSafe Collaborative Council. Sally serves on The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital’s Community Advisory Council.