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Children's Voice Article, March 2002

Executive Directions

by Shay Bilchik

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. CWLA and other local and national organizations will work to draw our nation's attention to the staggering rates of child abuse in this country. Through national events, ceremonies, and raising the Children's Memorial Flag, we will remember the hundreds of children who die each year from abuse and call attention to the nearly 800,000 confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect that pour into police departments and child welfare offices nationwide. Through awareness, we hope to educate the public about child abuse, encourage people to report suspected cases of abuse and neglect, and let families in crisis know help is available to them.

The month also aims to push lawmakers to provide funding for adequate services to investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect and for programs that address the poverty, isolation, substance abuse, and poor parenting skills that put children at greater risk for maltreatment.

Most of our nation, however, will remain unaware that April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and unmoved by our shameful rates of child abuse and neglect.

This month always reminds me of the words of Bill Gladstone, then administrative judge for the juvenile and family court in Miami. At a national conference I attended as an entry-level prosecutor, Judge Gladstone proclaimed to more than 1,000 attendees that we, as a society, do not love our children. I stared at him in disbelief. He supported his claim by citing the nation's record on preventing child maltreatment, funding services to families, and ensuring our children's safety and well-being. Yes, we love our own children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, he said, but as a nation we can't claim to love and prioritize our children when so many are hungry, abused, or living without basic services like health care.

After his speech, I questioned Judge Gladstone, a man who would become my mentor and a major influence in my career, about his incendiary words. I challenged his position, because the implications horrified me. The longer I have worked with and for children, however, the truer his words have become. Every day, I have the honor of working with people whose love of children is what gets them out of bed in the morning and drives them to work long hours doing some of the toughest jobs imaginable. But these caring professionals are frustrated daily by the inadequate resources available to serve our youngest and most vulnerable. They have seen the challenges our children face, and they've watched lawmakers and communities turn their backs. I'm sure many of them, like Bill Gladstone, have concluded our nation doesn't care enough to meet its children's needs.

The events of last September, however, made it clear we are a deeply caring nation-one that will go to extraordinary lengths to help those in need. We're also a nation that acts to protect its children when we understand how.

According to the National SAFE KIDS campaign, 1,765 children were killed in automobile accidents in 1998, not many more than the 1,100 children killed by abuse the same year. In 1999, 272,000 children were injured in car accidents, while more than a million were hurt by abuse or neglect at home. In recent years, lawmakers and carmakers have taken steps to reduce the number of child deaths and injuries from automobiles accidents by passing strict laws about seat belts, building safer automobiles, and educating parents about the importance and proper use of child safety seats. But although child abuse and neglect affect far more children, we have not made the same investment in keeping children safe in their own homes. Why? Why do most people throw up their hands and assume it's not their problem or there is nothing they can do?

As much as I have learned and seen in the years since Judge Gladstone's speech, I still react to his words with a touch of disbelief. I simply can't resign myself to the conclusion that we don't love our children. Our effort to keep kids safe on the road is just one example of our nation's care.

People need to understand, however, that just as with improving automobile safety, we have the knowledge, understanding, and resources to reduce the number of children who suffer from abuse and neglect. We can all take steps to help. Many of these tips are available in "How You Can Protect Children" in this issue of Children's Voice. You can also log onto the National Call to Action at www.nationalcalltoaction.com to join CWLA in support of their commitment to fight abuse and neglect. Or you can help CWLA celebrate Children's Memorial Flag Day on April 26.

Each of us must acknowledge our individual role in keeping children safe. Preventing child abuse is a movement that requires immediate grass-roots action to create more public awareness, require lawmakers to make a greater investment in kids, and improve intervention efforts.

I believe that, as a nation, we do love our children. This April, our challenge is to teach and encourage more people to act on that love in behalf of abused and neglected kids.

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