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Children's Voice Article, March/April, 2005

Executive Directions

If every person in the United States contributed to making this nation a safer, happier place for children, I wonder what our country would look like--how our quality of life would change.

The immensity of this country's problems in providing for the safety of our children can be daunting. Many of the people in our communities with whom we come into contact may wonder how they can possibly make a difference in the face of all that needs to be done. I encountered similar feelings early in my career as an attorney for the family court system. My days typically began by walking into the courthouse halls, where I'd find a sea of families and attorneys waiting for the judges' calls to order at 9:00 am. The number of caseloads weighing on the court was staggering and never let up.

I often wondered, "How can I possibly help so many people?"

Child welfare workers experience these feelings frequently. In a country as wealthy and powerful as ours, the number of children in foster care (more than half a million) is far too high, as is the number of victims of child maltreatment--just under 1 million. In 2002, the last year for which we have data, 1,390 children died in the United States due to abuse or neglect.

In light of these numbers, the challenge we face in providing for these children's safety and well-being is indeed daunting. It's not surprising, therefore, that we sometimes hear from those around us, "How can we possibly help so many people?"

What I learned in the family courts was that tackling the seemingly insurmountable odds requires working with families individually and helping them through their problems one at a time. Similarly, if every American reached out his or her hand to a child in need, our child welfare statistics would look quite different.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the total U.S. population is approximately 295 million people. Weigh this against the 542,000 children in foster care, and the math is clear. If every person made a contribution of some kind to child welfare, every child would have a better chance at having a warm, safe bed at night; three meals a day; and encouragement and guidance as they grow, learn, and develop.

So when we think about how to take on that daunting challenge, I suggest we call on our fellow citizens as an army of individuals charged with making a difference in our children's lives. And a good time to contribute is in April, during Child Abuse Prevention Month.

CWLA promotes flying the Children's Memorial Flag on the fourth Friday in April as a way to bring attention to the children needlessly lost to violence. In "Flagging Child Abuse" (page 20), you can read more about how communities and organizations nationwide have adopted the flag initiative since CWLA launched this campaign in 1998.

People like West Virginian Janet Craig and Florida law student Corinne Stashuk have embraced the spirit of the Children's Memorial Flag and garnered support for the initiative. Craig, Director of Training and Consultation for the Children's Home Society of West Virginia, has helped organize flying the flag in all 55 West Virginia counties.

Stashuk drummed up donation dollars for the initiative last year by selling CWLA bumper stickers, magnets, and lapel pins on the campus of Levin College of Law at the University of Florida. By adopting the initiative's mission and goals, both women inspired action and raised awareness in their communities. Both women made a difference by drawing attention to the needs of abused and neglected children and motivated others to act as well.

More stories and suggestions for participating in Child Abuse Prevention Month are online at Beyond this single month, child welfare agencies can promote many activities as part of the movement to prevent child abuse year-round:
  • Volunteer in afterschool programs, parent education classes, or mentoring programs.

  • Discipline children thoughtfully--give yourself time to calm down rather than disciplining children when you're upset.

  • Support prevention programs such as family counseling and assistance for parents of newborns.

  • Donate money, or serve on the board of directors of a local child advocacy agency.

  • Educate yourself about the signs of child physical and sexual abuse and neglect.

  • If you witness child abuse, report it.

  • Encourage local lawmakers to support legislation to protect our children and improve their lives.
Or you can simply be a constant voice on behalf of our children, particularly our most vulnerable children, rallying others to our cause and bringing to life the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Shay Bilchik

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