FaceIt_200x200_2This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Courier-Journal. You can view it online here.

By Jerry Ward

Protecting the most precious gift of all. That’s what we at Kosair Charities have worked to do for over 90 years. We strive to help children in need, which is why we formed the Face It movement to end child abuse in our community.

We know this is not an easy issue to solve. We know it will take both changes in practice and policy to prevent and end abuse. We know we need community members working together to make change happen. But, we also know progress is being made.

The recently released report from the Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel offers an array of solutions, which, if implemented, could take Kentucky several steps forward in preventing child abuse deaths.

This panel of volunteers spent the last two years taking an in-depth look at child death and near death cases due to abuse and neglect and identifying where system improvements can be made. Panel members committed hours of their time to read through case files and analyze the inner workings of the child welfare system — definitely not an easy task to take on but we are thankful that they did.

Kosair Charities and Face It are encouraged to see strong, workable recommendations from the panel in this recent report. For example, the panel calls for better coordination among state government agencies, law enforcement and the courts to improve investigations and reporting of child abuse. It also calls for education and awareness to parents on safe sleep practices and how to prevent pediatric abusive head trauma. These and the additional recommendations could address many of the complex issues surrounding child abuse.

However, far too often, recommendations are made but not acted upon. Recommendations on a piece of paper hold little value unless they become reality.

We cannot afford these recommendations to fall to the wayside.

The panel identified 73 children who died and 43 who nearly died due to abuse and neglect during the last fiscal year, a significantly higher number than the number reported by the Department for Community Based Services, due primarily to the many cases still pending when the department’s report was released. The panel identified concerns on how many systems may have failed these children.

Children don’t have time to wait.

Those 73 children who died and 43 children who nearly died definitely didn’t have time to wait for improvements to be made. The more than 19,000 children who experienced abuse in Kentucky in fiscal year 2014 don’t have time to wait either. Changes need to be made now.

We call on the legislature, the governor and state government to act on these recommendations quickly. Our leaders have stepped up on behalf of protecting children the last few years by creating this external panel and passing other measures, such as ensuring professionals who interact with children receive training on child abuse. But, much more work remains to be done. We ask our elected leaders to again make this tragic issue a priority as they have done in recent legislative sessions. One child who suffers from or dies from abuse is one too many.

Community members can also be the face that ends child abuse by visiting faceitabuse.org to learn the signs of child abuse and how to safely intervene. You can be the professional that understands what signs to look for. You can be the neighbor or friend that knows how to support parents in that tough job of raising kids. You can be the manager of an organization working with children that ensures your staff is trained on preventing and reporting child abuse.

Kosair Charities is committed to preventing child abuse through our work with schools, child care providers, nonprofit partners, health care professionals, and many others. Will you join with us and face it in order to end child abuse in our community?

Jerry Ward is chairman of the board of directors of Kosair Charities, Inc.