This is what I have decided after spending several years knee deep in the child welfare crisis: It’s easier not to know.
I don’t want to know that 3500 kids are homeless in Minnesota every night. I don’t want to know that 39,531 kids were the subjects of maltreatment reports in our state last year. I don’t want to know that 37 kids suffered life-threatening injuries and 26 died from abuse.
I don’t want to know that 60% of kids who age out of foster care are dead, homeless or in jail within a year. I don’t want to know that human traffickers prey on foster kids desperate for any family structure they can find. And I don’t want to know that kids in the foster care system experience PTSD at twice the rate of Iraq war veterans.
Because once you know, it is nearly impossible to go on with life as usual and ignore the crisis that is all around us.
But here is the thing, we all should know. We all should care. Because children and their parents are desperately crying out for help. And if no one knows the magnitude of the crisis, then who will respond?
So here are some things you should know about the child welfare crisis:
It is pervasive.
In the state of Minnesota, child welfare offices fielded over 78,178 calls of suspected maltreatment in 2015. This means that every nine seconds a concerned teacher, medical professional or concerned adult called to report abuse and neglect of children. These reports are made across the entire state, in every community from the streets of Minneapolis to the rolling countryside of Northern Minnesota. These calls come in regarding children of all ages and from every demographic. Because abuse and neglect happen in families of every ethnicity, class, education level and community.
It is expected to get worse.
The numbers of maltreatment reports increase every year. And with our country facing a growing heroin and opioid epidemic, an alarming number of kids are being caught up in the crossfire. Also, in Minnesota, increased awareness means increased reporting. As more child welfare professionals are able to identify more kids in crisis, the need for foster parents, volunteers and caring adults to get involved in supporting struggling families is going to be greater than ever.
Minnesota is working hard to improve our response.
Minnesota has been ramping up efforts to improve the response to child abuse and neglect. The state is in the process of implementing a $23 million dollar initiative to improve our child welfare system. The goal is to move from a crisis-driven model to a more comprehensive model that intervenes before gross maltreatment has occurred. But this only works if more individuals and couples are willing to step in and be part of the efforts to protect kids at every level.
All kids deserve a chance to thrive.
Much ado is made about loving others in our culture. And if anyone needs love and care it is vulnerable children – especially kids who are torn from their parents at no fault of their own. These kids are your children’s classmates, friends, teammates and neighbors. All children deserve a chance to be cared for and it benefits everyone in the community when they are given the best possible chance for success.
You can make a real difference in the life of a child.
Trauma affects the hardwiring of the brain and can have lasting affects in a child’s life. But research has shown that resilience can be fostered by strong, caring relationships in a child’s life. All children need connections to supportive adults in order to grow and thrive. Foster families play a critical role in providing the connections and loving care that they are missing out on when they can not be with their families. And knowing that you are building into the life of a child far outweighs any sacrifice you make in order to do so.
Fostering children allows you to be a critical stepping stone in a families journey back to being together. Many parents with children in foster care are working hard to improve the safety of their home and parenting in order to get their children back. And the ultimate goal of foster care is for families to be reunited and stronger.
To learn more about becoming a foster parent in your county, start here: Minnesota Department of Human Services
Prevention efforts are a great way to jump in.
One of the greatest needs in the child welfare puzzle is for prevention and early intervention services. Seventy percent of calls to child welfare in Minnesota are screened out, meaning the suspected abuse and neglect is not at a level that warrants intervention. But this does not mean that those families don’t need assistance.
There are some services in place to offer resources and financial assistance to struggling families. But more attention is being given to the need for healthy relationships in the lives of at-risk families. The CDC has studied child abuse and neglect and found that social isolation is a key risk factor. So providing strong social support networks to at-risk families can be transformative in strengthening families before abuse and neglect occur.
Several programs exist that aim to offer relational support so kids and families do not have to feel isolated. Three local options are:
Big Brothers Big Sisters – provides children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported, 1-to-1 relationships that change their lives for the better, forever.
Safe Families for Children – a faith-based organization that provides temporary care for children whose parents are in crisis. Screened, background checked and trained host families volunteer to care for children in their homes.
The YMCA Youth Intervention Services – offers supportive services to young people experiencing barriers as a result of homelessness or involvement in the foster care or juvenile justice systems.
There are many more wonderful opportunities to join in the efforts to reduce child abuse and neglect. Share your favorite opportunities to get involved in the comments.