Preventing child abuse starts with you

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By Megan Rose, CEO


April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and according to the Florida Department of Children and Families, the number of children placed in foster care has increased since Hurricane Ian.

In Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, and Lee counties, the number of home removals increased by 12% since the storm, and by 33% since the same time last year.

While foster care is an important last resort for children who are in immediate physical danger, most home removals stem from preventable neglect. Life gets hard, and parents are unable to provide adequate food and shelter, for one reason or another.

This is a solvable problem, and all of us have a role to play in solving it. Together as a community we can address the root causes of child neglect and keep families together.

Across Southwest Florida, local churches and volunteer helpers are stepping in to serve families that have temporarily spiraled out of control due to tough issues like social isolation, addiction, sudden illness, losing a job, and more. Early intervention is key to preventing neglect and family breakdown in these scenarios.

Maybe when you’re going through a difficult time, you don’t need government to remove your kids, you just need some help from a trusted friend or neighbor. That’s where groups like Better Together step in to help families who are barely keeping it together.

We recently helped a single mother and her 2-month-old. They were less than a week away from being homeless. She was only 20 years old, a first-time mother, and struggling with post-partum depression and drug addiction. No family in the area, no friends. She was alone in the world and starting to spiral.

“I wasn’t making great choices in the beginning, and it was really stressful without any help,” she later told us. “My ex was not providing anything, once with diapers, that was it.”

Child services was on her doorstep, and in truly incredible timing, we had just met with child services the week before to let them know we had expanded our program into North Central Florida, where the young mother lived. They asked us to step in, and we did.

One of our volunteer host families from a local church partner offered to care for the baby while her mom completed three months at a rehab facility. She called the baby from rehab and did visits every Saturday. The host family supported, advised, and encouraged her every step of the way on her journey toward recovery and new motherhood.

Meanwhile, our staff helped the young mom explore job options and secure affordable housing. In just three months, she had completed rehab, moved into a new home, and began a new job.

This young mother didn’t need foster care, she needed a community in her corner. She needed neighbors and friends. As members of the community, every single one of us can do something to prevent child abuse and neglect. Here’s how our program works:

When a family falls into crisis, we have a network of vetted and trained host families who offer to care for their children while mentoring parents toward a better life. Everything is voluntary, and the parents never lose legal custody of their children. When parents feel they have gotten their lives back on track, they pick their children up, no questions asked.

The average stay of a child with our program is 45 days, compared to 569 days in foster care. Of the 5,400 children we have served through our programs, 98% successfully reunited with their parents without any need for further state intervention.

That is the power of an engaged community. There is no 98% success rate without the kindness and compassion of people and families living across Florida.

Better Together is building true, local support systems of mentors, coaches, professionals, and volunteers who help these families every step of the way, and in all different ways.

Some people donate or collect material items for their homes, such as beds, diapers, baby food, bicycles to get to work, etc. Others give a shoulder to cry on, friendship, and life advice. Others offer to help with home repairs or deliver hot meals.

Others volunteer to babysit at our “Parents’ Night Out” events to give isolated parents a night of well-earned respite, to catch up on sleep, reconnect with a spouse, catch up on things at home, recharge, whatever they need.

Doing your part to reduce the need for foster care doesn’t mean that you have to do all of these things, but we all have something—anything, no matter how big or small—that we can offer to help families overcome hard times and stay intact.

Parents should not have to lose their children because they lost a job, had the courage to seek treatment, or got hospitalized without having child care coverage while they are healing.

Child services does an excellent job of stepping in when children and families’ needs exceed the capabilities and resources of the community. But this month, let’s ask ourselves—is there more that we can be doing to help struggling families? Are we really doing everything we can?

If the answer is no, there is a role for you at Better Together.

Take the fist step to volunteer


Posted Tuesday, April 25, 2023

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