This was originally posted as an op-ed by the Courier Journal on August 19, 2019.
Kentucky’s kids owe a debt of gratitude to the Courier Journal’s editor, Rick Green, for making a considerable commitment of resources to focus on abuse and neglect in Kentucky. That gratitude extends to Debby Yetter, whose reporting prowess highlighted the multitude of factors that are contributing to the tragic state of this commonwealth when it comes to the safety of our children.
This multidimensional series insightfully revealed the tragedies, complexities and challenges of the child welfare system. It did so with powerful personal narratives that should break the hearts and challenge the moral courage of every Kentuckian. When confronted by a series such as this, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and defeated. But, of course, it is exactly those kinds of daunting issues that demand we act on behalf of our children.
Kosair Charities and more than 90 partner organizations began work to address the unacceptable number of child abuse and neglect incidences some six years ago with the launch of the Face It Movement. Face It boldly seeks to end abuse and neglect in Kentucky, and while that vision is lofty, can we accept anything less? Part of the success of Face It comes from its three-pronged approach — leveraging public awareness, on the ground practice and policy initiatives to tackle the abuse and neglect epidemic we all must face.
In the midst of this crisis, Face It is making a difference. As an example, Face It has worked with the Archdiocese of Louisville to ensure Catholic school personnel and students have education around preventing child sexual abuse, bullying and internet safety.
In the important arena of raising public awareness, Face It focuses not only on professionals and volunteers who work with children, but also parents and caregivers, equipping all with information about risk factors of maltreatment, mitigating stress that inevitably comes with caring for kids, building resilience and strengthening relationships with children and within communities. To date, Face It has disseminated, by request, more than 100,000 educational materials.
As a member of your community, there are several opportunities to get engaged in Face It’s grassroots work to end child abuse — be that by sharing our materials at community events or in your local library, showing support of parents and caregivers in your life, or making a report to the Department for Community Based Services when you suspect child maltreatment.
Given the deepening conditions around abuse in this state, we would suggest that policy is the pivot point. The Face It Policy Team continually brings key priorities to the Kentucky General Assembly, and our legislature has demonstrated its commitment to keeping kids safe by supporting those measures. Yet more must be done to prevent child maltreatment.
This is where every Courier Journal reader can play a role because every one of us can ask our state senator, state representative, candidates for attorney general, Attorney General Andy Beshear and Gov. Matt Bevin the following questions:
- If we know that neglect is the leading form of child maltreatment in Kentucky, how will you go about reducing the risk of neglect in our communities?
- Child abuse and neglect are often related to untreated substance abuse and mental health issues, and Kentucky spends approximately $410 million dollars on foster care compared with $14.7 million on prevention services. How will you ensure funds are spent on getting to the root of these challenges and keeping families together safely?
- Based on the staff turnover issues being experienced by the Department for Community Based Services, how do you plan to ensure the state agency has access to the tools and resources needed to recruit and retain quality workers?
- Child abuse and neglect prevention is the responsibility of members of the community. How do you plan to work collaboratively to reduce and ideally end the occurrence of child maltreatment?
- With all the work that is happening on the state level, including the Child Welfare Transformation and implementation of House Bill 1 and the federal Family First Prevention Services Act, what do you anticipate the child welfare system looking like in 10 years?
Our elected officials and those contending for elected office have an absolute and clear obligation to be a key player in battling the scourge of child abuse and neglect. And, the answers to those questions will reveal leaders’ depth of commitment, courage and understanding.
At a moment when action is needed and results are required, it is well to heed Albert Einstein who asserted, “To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination.” Kentucky’s kids deserve that kind of creative imagination in addressing abuse and neglect from every pastor and principal; from every nonprofit executive and business leader; from every pediatrician and judge; and from every official who serves or hopes to serve the commonwealth, be that in a county courthouse or Frankfort.
Keith Inman is president of Kosair Charities and Terry Brooks is executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. Learn more about the Kosair Charities Face It Movement at faceitabuse.org.