This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Courier Journal on April 26, 2017.
Henry Grunwald, TIME magazine’s former editor-in-chief, asserts that journalism must speak immediately, “while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air.” The Courier-Journal has met that standard in facing the plague of child abuse during April, which is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Each Sunday this month, the Courier-Journal has highlighted a different facet of Face It®, Kentucky’s signature child abuse prevention effort led by Kosair Charities. Readers have heard about Kosair Charities® big picture vision from Board Chair Jerry Ward, learned pragmatic tips to tackle this crisis on a personal basis from U of L’s Dr. Melissa Currie, and were inspired by on-the-ground efforts as described by Peace Education’s Eileen Blanton, First Lady Glenna Bevin and young people themselves.
Eliminating child abuse requires the courageous and rare philanthropic leadership that Kosair Charities exemplifies. It requires the on-the-ground efforts by the more than three dozen Face It partners. It also requires decisive and bold actions from state leaders in Frankfort.
And let’s be clear: state leaders have delivered around reducing child abuse during the past several years. Both Governors Beshear and Bevin, Speakers Stumbo and Hoover, and as always, Senate President Stivers have enacted a multi-year legacy of strengthening laws to protect children. Those Frankfort triumphs have meant independent external reviews of child fatalities, rigorous training for educators and medical professionals, and stronger background check guarantees when it comes to public schools and summer camps. Every one of those efforts is a real and relevant win for Kentucky’s children.
And yet the plague of child abuse continues. We simply cannot forget that in just twelve months, from December of 2015 until November of 2016, over 25,000 Kentucky kids were abused and/or neglected. And while the on-the-ground and past Frankfort efforts do make a profound difference, our children deserve more.
We must persist in making ideas into realities when it comes to this issue. Albert Einstein suggests that “If at first, an idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” Can I suggest that we can get about the business of realizing the goal of Face It — “To make Kentucky abuse free by 2023!” — if we address two ideas filled both with absurdity and hope?
- We will not eliminate child abuse without eliminating poverty. The opioid epidemic. Domestic abuse. A culture of societal violence. An increasingly fragile family structure. Each of these contributes to an environment that is more vulnerable to child abuse. And yet data reveals that, at 77 percent, the singular most common risk factor present in cases of child abuse and neglect is poverty
- We will not eliminate child abuse without a revolution in the child welfare system. There comes a time when nibbling at the edges and incremental change must give way to fundamental revolution. That time has come for the child welfare system in Kentucky. And if we ever hope to stem the tide of child abuse — much less eliminate it from the lives of our children — then the time for that revolution has come. Revolution means shifting the pendulum of foster care to an emphasis on family preservation and kinship and family-based foster care. Revolution means genuine change in the process of discovery and findings around abuse to ensure that quality inquiry and consistency animates every case being investigated. Revolution means putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to specific issues like the moratorium on kinship care supports or broader issues like adequate staffing of frontline workers within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. In 1990, public schools across the Commonwealth changed forever because of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA). We need a Kentucky Child Welfare Reform Act that brings the same import and the same impact.
Because of its commitment to this issue in April, the Courier lifted both the echoes of wonder and the horrors of the continuing tragedy around child abuse. Our leaders in Frankfort can begin to grab those same “echoes of wonder” if they tackle the “horrors in the air.” And that commitment can begin when — and only when — they see these two propositions not as the absurd, but as the imperative, for 2018.