Alan Abramowitz: Now more than ever, let’s protect children

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Let's treat each other, including children, with empathy and respect.

“Young children are going to remember how their family felt during this coronavirus crisis, more than anything specific about the virus. Our kids are watching and learning about how to respond to stress and uncertainty. Let’s wire our kids with resilience, not panic.” — Kelly’s Treehouse.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and so much will be different this year. Every April, we remind Floridians of the many ways they can help protect children — and that won’t change. It’ll just be all virtual, including the resources we’ll provide.

But this year, we’re all more fragile. We all face challenges. And we know the most fragile families — parents who on their best day struggle to keep homes safe for their children — are under more stress than ever.

So now, when we talk about preventing child abuse, it’s in the face of greater poverty, heightened family violence and additional substance abuse. Children aren’t going to school, so the educators who normally file 20% of abuse reports aren’t seeing the kids in person. Nor are the other professionals who file such reports.

In other words, the risk factors for child abuse and neglect have intensified. The court proceedings at which Guardian ad Litem volunteers represent maltreated children take place by video, for now. So do our visits with the children. But as everyone knows, there’s no substitute for being with the child in person.

So first, we’re asking Floridians to pay attention to the children in their neighborhoods. Watch for signs of abuse and neglect. If you’re uncertain what those are, visit the Department of Children and Families reporting site at reportabuse.dcf.state.fl.us. You can also phone in a report at 1-800-962-2873, Florida Relay 711 or TTY: 1-800-955-8771.

Second, it’s just as important to build children’s strengths so they can better protect themselves and rebound from adversity. In other words, it’s as important to strengthen the protective factors for children as to lower their risk factors.

Building protective factors takes many forms. Everyone facing this deadly virus has worries — including small children. They know something’s wrong. Whether or not they’re at risk in their homes, children are worried, too. So, let’s help them build coping skills. Let’s model calm, empathetic, resilient behavior. Let’s treat each other, including children, with empathy and respect.

It also helps to have good resources, and throughout Child Abuse Prevention Month, Guardian ad Litem will be offering them: links to food, community support, educational tools, mental health and addiction treatment and creative opportunities. All virtual.

We’ll also share some of the many ways people are finding to build virtual community: teachers driving through neighborhoods in caravans, waving at students they cannot teach in class. Volunteers delivering meals and mowing lawns. Schools and newspapers and symphonies sharing their best work online, free.

Children will remember for the rest of their lives whether their families and communities pulled together. Let’s lead the way.

To learn more about the Guardian ad Litem Program or to become a volunteer, visit GuardianAdLitem.org or call 1-866-341-1425.

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Alan Abramowitz is the executive director for Florida Guardian ad Litem.

Guest Author



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