Guest Post: Lessons in the Marathon to End Child Abuse

This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Courier Journal on March 29, 2017.

By Jerry Ward

Spring in Louisville means that more than simply horses run. A quick perusal of the local running calendar reveals over 20 marathons, mini-marathons and other kinds of long-distance races from April through June.

We at Kosair Charities are running our own marathon. It is not the 26 miles, 385 yards that make up that classic race; instead, it is a race that we will run for years. We started that marathon in 2013 when we were so shocked by the increasing number of children dying due to abuse and neglect that we launched the Face It Movement to end child abuse. And just like a marathon has a finish line, so does ours: when all Kentucky kids are free from abuse and neglect. And just like runners learn lessons every time they race, we are learning lessons along our journey.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. As we begin this time to both reflect upon and act on this tragic social issue, maybe some Face It lessons can both inform and inspire you.

Lesson 1: Policy counts.

It is easy in the world in which we live to think that government is only a problem and never a source of solutions. Yet we have found leaders in Frankfort – be they Republicans or Democrats; rural or urban; in the judiciary, the legislature or the executive branch – to be real champions in facing the scourge of child abuse. In fact, in collaboration with Kentucky Youth Advocates and several partners, we have scored a remarkable string of wins in four consecutive legislative sessions that spanned more than a little shift in the political landscape. Because of those elected leaders, our medical professionals and public school educators are better and more consistently trained. As parents, you now have guarantees that new public school hires and summer camp employees have background checks performed to ensure safety. And, there is an independent external review process for child fatalities and near fatalities due to abuse and neglect. Don’t believe that politics are too toxic to make a difference. Ending child abuse is a common cause around which our leaders in Frankfort can and continue to unite.

Lesson 2: Small steps on the ground work.

We at the Charities have pursued a deliberate course on our Face It marathon. We rejected the idea that a magic wand could erase the problem. We didn’t look for some national group to solve a local issue. Instead, we have engaged some three dozen nonprofit partners, initially in Louisville and now across the commonwealth, and we have provided them with targeted seed capital to innovate, invent, and make a daily difference in protecting children. Those small steps cover the gamut of settings. They look like:

  • Providing professionals who work with children the tools they need to recognize and prevent abuse, including Coordinated Community Child Care (4Cs) creating and promoting virtual trainings for every child care provider in Louisville and Boys and Girls Clubs and Family and Children’s Place launching staff trainings for other nonprofits.
  • Creating safer communities and homes through Peace Education’s conflict resolution and mediation training for youth and adults, Jewish Family and Career Services’ work to heal families who have experienced trauma, and Catholic elementary schools’ curriculum that provides students with the skills to speak up when signs point to abuse.
  • Giving young people from across Kentucky a voice in creating solutions for abuse in their schools and homes with first lady Glenna Bevin creating the first ever First Lady’s Youth Leadership Council.
  • Initiating a forensic pediatric program at the University of Kentucky Medical School under the direction of Dr. Christina Howard to emulate the nationally acclaimed work by Dr. Melissa Currie at the University of Louisville Medical School.

This list can go on and on. Kosair Charities is committed to ensuring hard working and dedicated nonprofits in Louisville and across the commonwealth have the resources they need to end this plague and to end it now.

Lesson 3: We have only begun.

We take that stated goal seriously because we are not about reducing abuse. We are about ending it. And yet we know that between December of 2015 to November of 2016, over 25,000 children were abused and neglected. Those terrifying numbers should jolt us all. We still have miles to run in the marathon to end abuse.

We are already thinking about policy changes that need to be enacted in 2018, and we have begun the hard work of advocating for a state budget that adequately supports child abuse prevention.

We are also ramping up on-the-ground efforts, both in the Louisville area and across the state. The next mile of our marathon includes engaging the faith community, supporting parents, and thinking about the complex challenge of protecting special needs children from abuse. I am especially enthused about a significant statewide expansion spanning from Owensboro to Manchester. As just one example, we know that military families face extraordinary stresses that may lead to abuse or neglect when our patriots return home from combat. We are utilizing research and best practice to begin work in the Fort Knox community.

Meb Keflezighi, a U.S. Olympic marathoner, observes, “Like the marathon, life can sometimes be difficult, challenging and present obstacles. However, if you believe in your dreams and never give up, things will turn out for the best.”

We at Kosair Charities and each of our Face It partners know that life for every little boy and girl who has been abused is more than tough; it is a tragedy. And that is why, we cannot and will not ever give up on our dream that all Kentucky kids will be free from abuse. After all, nothing less than the best – the absolute best – is good enough for our children.

Jerry Ward is the chairman of the board of Kosair Charities of Louisville.

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