We All Must Protect Children

Written by Family Services of Metro Orlando CEO, Greg Kurth, and published in the Orlando Sentinel on 9/12/2010…

Recently, several articles have reported parents were arrested for abuse of their adopted children. Each has striking similarities — multiple children adopted at different times, abusive and bizarre discipline, home schooling and little awareness by neighbors. These similarities paint a profile of risk to children that has not been well-researched by experts in the field of social work.

We can never know how many families have children who fear for their lives every day. These families live among us and may interact with services designed to prevent harm to children. But somehow, they’ve escaped notice before an injury requiring intervention raises concerns.

No one other than the abuser did anything wrong in the cases that led to these arrests, but not enough of us came together to do what’s right. For too long, we have tried to assign responsibility for the protection of children to a single entity — the churches, the government, the school or the family. History and experience show that when we stand alone for children, we fail to protect them.

It is everyone’s responsibility to make children safe and protect them from abuse. It must start at home with families so they stay strongly connected in the community. Despite great intentions of individuals, nonprofits, government and private funders, and child advocates, Central Florida does not have a cohesive, multisystemic vision that has led to careful planning for our region’s most vulnerable children and families.

The faith community can provide critical support to its most at-risk members. Nonprofit service providers must act with greater deliberation when evaluating those who care for children. Government agencies must improve information sharing and interagency collaboration. Corporations must commit to helping employees better support their families.

And equally as important is advocacy from every one of us. Follow your instincts when something just doesn’t seem right between parent and child. Engage others to know their neighbors and collaborate with supportive organizations.

There is a cost to inaction. The hidden tax to society for the effects of child abuse and neglect is more than $2 million a day in Central Florida. The impact on children’s lives is profound and, in some circumstances, deadly.

At Family Services of Metro Orlando, we constantly review practices with our partners. But we cannot do it alone; neither can a single system. I call on leaders from Central Florida to create a bold, public agenda that seeks to improve the lives of our region’s most vulnerable children and families. Broader public engagement can secure a promising future for young people. Let the change we seek in our children’s lives begin with us, here and now.

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