Home Local News Agencies, communities working together to prevent child abuse in Richmond County, state

Agencies, communities working together to prevent child abuse in Richmond County, state

A crowd leaves the Richmond County Department of Social Services in a short march in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month. See more photos below the story. Photos by William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — A cluster of child advocates (and a few children) marched from the Richmond County Department of Social Services to the old courthouse Tuesday, collecting blue pinwheels along the way.

Those pinwheels were later planted along the edges of the landmark’s lawn in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month.

The afternoon program was a collaboration between DSS, the Richmond County Partnership for Children, Circle of Parents and Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina.

April was first designated Child Abuse Prevention Month in 1983, according to Dr. Katrina Chance, executive director of the Partnership, who welcomed the crowd.

The Richmond County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution at its March meeting recognizing the month locally.

Chance said pinwheels have been the symbol of child maltreatment prevention across the nation since 2008.

“The pinwheel is reflective of the bright future of all children and our belief that we all have a stake in nurturing positive childhood’s,” Chance said. “Pinwheels are used to help educate communities about the importance of supporting children and families.”

STRENGTHENING FAMILIES

The vision of PCANC is “that all children grow up in safe, stable, nurturing relationships and families and communities,” according to Sharon Hirsch, the organization’s president and CEO.

The state, Hirsch said, spends $4,000 per minute to pay “for the downstream consequences of child maltreatment” which, she added, “is 100 percent preventable when we invest in programs and strategies that strengthen families.”

Hirsch went on to say that the conversation of child maltreatment is being reframed from the abuse to root causes of stress that can lead to it.

“Every child is filled with tremendous potential and it is our collective responsibility to strengthen families and ensure that all children reach their full potential,” Hirsch said. “Together in partnership, we can create the conditions, the relationships and the environments that children need to thrive.”

Stress overload is a major factor in abuse and neglect, according to Hirsch. That stress can be brought on by environmental factors like substandard wages and schools, poor housing, historical trauma and structural racism, and food scarcity.

Damage from hurricanes and the pandemic have also added to stress on families in recent years, she added.

“The community context in which families live matters,” said Hirsch.

“Bad parenting” isn’t on her list.

“It’s the overload of stress on parents that can lead to that adverse response … that can harm children,” she said. “Today, we recognize that parents can parent better when they’re supported by their communities and have the resources they need for their children to thrive.”

Prioritizing environmental change over individual interventions, Hirsch continued, “will have a greater positive impact …(I)f we focus our attention on building safe, stable environments for families, we can prevent the need for larger-scale individual interventions.”

Policies that increase economic security — like the child tax credit, childcare subsidies, access to health and food benefits — can reduce the stress load, she said.

Studies show, according to Hirsch, that when economic stress is reduced, child abuse and neglect is reduced.

“When we work together to reduce the root causes of child maltreatment and create those safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments that children need,” she said, “we can remove the heaviest loads that are weighing families and entire communities down, ultimately building a stronger future for all of us.”

LOCAL STATISTICS

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Social Services Director Robby Hall said that while Richmond County has a strong community, “we have areas where we could do better.”

One of those areas, Hall continued, is prevention of abuse and neglect of children.

“There’s only so much one department can do, one church can do, one family can do,” Hall said. “Working together is about the only way that we’re ever going to be able to tackle this issue.”

The local DSS office investigated 550 of 798 reports of child abuse and neglect in 2022, according to Hall.

DSS has also seen a surge in foster children.

Before 2019, 50 local children were in foster care, according to Hall. That number has since more than doubled to 112. Statewide, that number has grown from 10,000 to 12,000.

“During the COVID crisis, we saw many of the supports that we have everyday unavailable,” Hall said, adding that about 22% of foster homes across the state closed their doors.

That has resulted in children having to be housed at the DSS building.

Substance abuse is also a contributing factor.

From 2019-2021, Hall said that 259 of the 1,600 infants (around 15%) born to Richmond County parents showed exposure to illicit substances.

“All of the families, the children, everyone needs help and not one person can do that alone,” Hall said. “Not one agency, even if we try as hard as we can. There’s not enough time in the day and there’s not enough hands reaching forward. Only a community can do that.”

The director gave credit to the community partners helping provide clothes meals to foster kids including King’s Gate Children Hope Center, the Richmond County Soup Kitchen, Sly’s Diner, Food Lion, Freedom Baptist Church.

“The county has also looked at this issue and is trying to make a difference,” Hall said.

“We are investing in a child advocacy center that we are hoping to open at the beginning of 2024 … a place where we can evaluate abuse and neglect with doctors and professionals and immediately provide services to the victims — and the parents that are non-offenders …”

Hall added that all foster homes in the county are full and more foster parents are needed.

Foster care training begins April 20. Contact Theressa Smith or Linda Collins at 910-997-8480 for more information.

See more photos below.



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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.