When you read headlines about child abuse or neglect, you may feel powerless to help. None of us can protect every child, all the time, but we can take steps to protect the children in our homes, churches, and communities. It is the job of adults to do the strong and courageous work of protecting children and youth. We need to pay attention, care, and act. Who better than Christians in social worke to lead the way in this effort?
Faith communities often provide valuable support for people of all ages and all walks of life and are typically great places for children and families. Whether it’s a church, synagogue, or mosque – or a school, child care facility, or camp – attention to child and youth safety must be paramount.
Factors that may put a child or youth at risk are often complex and difficult to navigate: domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, among others. Any of us with children can acknowledge how the stresses of life can make it difficult to be good parents. Add ingredients like community violence, unsafe housing, or chronic unemployment, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Rather than be overcome by the immensity or complexity of the problem, let’s be moved to action. Let’s value all children we come into contact with—let’s listen to them, respond to them, and be a voice for them, when needed. Let’s reach out to youth—let’s mentor them, teach them, be a friend to them. And let’s assist parents—let’s lend a hand, be patient, and understand they may be experiencing more stress than we know.
As Christians in social work, here are some things we can do:
- Locate and read your faith community’s policy on child safety and protection. If they don’t have one, develop and carefully implement a policy that includes guidelines on the reporting of suspected abuse or neglect to authorities (see some examples).
- Call your local CPS office or police unit and invite someone to speak to your church or group about child abuse.
- Find a safe environment curriculum to teach the children in your church. Talk with your director of children’s education about what you found.
- Provide parenting classes, support groups, and friendship for parents.
- Become familiar with resources in the larger community and partner with them.
- Start a prayer journal for the children and families in your community.
Every one of us has a responsibility to keep children and youth safe. Let’s be moved to action today.
Jeanette Harder, PhD, CMSW, is a professor at the Grace Abbott School of Social Work at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and Co-Founder and President of Dove’s Nest, a 501(c)(3) organization that works to “empower and equip faith communities to keep children and youth safe in their homes, churches, and communities.” Jeanette is passionate about child abuse prevention in faith communities, including the Amish; and evaluation of programs serving children, youth, and families in poverty.