By Tammi Pitzen, Executive Director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Jackson County
Today I am sitting in my office listening to the rain and feeling a little sad and a lot overwhelmed. It’s Sunday and the office is very quiet except for the rain trickling through the rain gutters and the tap of my fingers on the keyboard.
No, I am not sad because I am working on the weekend or because it is raining.
I am sad because I just read the 2015 Child Welfare Data Book.
There is much controversy across the country because there are statistics that have been released in recent years that indicate child abuse is on the decrease. I have watched this discussion and sometimes participated in this discussion over the last few years and I just don’t see this to be true in my every day practice.
According to the 2015 Child Welfare Data Book, 27 children in Oregon died as a result of child abuse and neglect.
In 2014 that number was 13. In 2013 that number was 10. 27 is a number that describes an amount but does not tell the story. Behind that 27 are children that died at the hands of another. 21 of those deaths were caused by one or both parents. 20 of those children were under the age of 5.
I do not know all their stories. I do not know the heinous circumstance in which they died. I would not recognize them in a picture if you showed it to me. But my heart weeps just the same. Each of those children carried with them potential that was never realized. Each of those children had dreams that were never dreamt.
Our community will never be what it could have been if those 27 children lived.
But, unfortunately, that is not all of the story. As I read further, I learned that
41.5% of the time for the abused and neglected children in Oregon, the perpetrator is their mom. 37% of the time it is their father. A relative, a live in companion, foster parent, or guardian are the perpetrator 15.5% of the time.
94% of the time the perpetrator was someone who, by their very role in the child’s life, is supposed to be a protector not an abuser.
I read further. In Jackson County our numbers increased as well. In 2013, there were 707 victims of child abuse in our county. In 2014 that rose to 801 and in 2015 rose again to 954.
These are more than numbers. There were 954 children in our community that were harmed in some way. Chances are you know one of these 954. Chances are they go to school with your child or grandchild. Chances are that your paths crossed with one of these children. You may have sat next to one at church or at a community event. You may have seen one riding their bike in your neighborhood.
Please do not think this is not your business. It is your business. It is my business. These children are our children.
As I read through the “numbers”, faces of children I have worked with over the years flash in my mind’s eye. Some of them are ones that I was not happy with the outcomes and, if I am honest, I often wonder what happened after. What kind of adult are they? Are they happy? Did they find peace?
These are the thoughts that will be running through my brain, stealing sleep from me over the next few weeks. It happens every year after I read the Data Book. It’s predictable. I imagine there are Department of Human Services Supervisors and case workers doing the same.
Every year when the report is released I wonder what else I can do to keep that number from increasing. What else can the CAC do? What else can our community partners do?
We can’t bury our head in the sand and pretend it isn’t happening. Jackson County has the 9th highest rate of abuse per 1000 children in the state of Oregon.
No one entity and no one person is the answer. It takes all of us.
Not sure what you can do?
Let me suggest a few things:
- Make a donation to the Children’s Advocacy Center. We provide fantastic evidence based interventions to the abused children and their non-offending caregivers that we serve. We do not charge the families for these services. The bottom line is; it takes money to provide these services. Donate Now.
- Become a Children’s Advocacy Center volunteer. Or become a volunteer at The Family Nurturing Center or at CASA. We all need volunteers. We need people who can give some time that will help a child. The Advocacy Center needs some adults who can answer a phone, play a game of checkers, and make a phone call or two…..drink a cup a coffee with a non-offending caregiver or share a gold fish with a child while they are waiting for their appointment. Learn more about volunteering at the CAC or call Ginny at: email@example.com or 541-734-5437
- Take a class. The Children’s Advocacy Center has a prevention program called Protect Our Children that uses Darkness to Light’s curriculum “Stewards of Children” to teach adults to recognize and respond to child sexual abuse. It is an adult’s responsibility to keep kids safe but how can you do that if you don’t know how to identify it. Or even better, host a class for your church, your civic organization, your place of employment, your best friends—any group of people you are involved in. Schedule a class for yourself or your group
- Talk to your legislative representatives about the importance of funding in programs that respond and intervene in child abuse. Talk to them about the CAC and the work that we do. Find your legislators
- Become informed. Attend the Free CAC Community Forum coming up on Nov. 7th regarding keeping kids safe on the internet.