Child Abuse Prevention Month: Interview with Students Against Violence Everywhere

Students Against Violence Everywhere
Students Against Violence Everywhere

In March 2013, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation declaring the month of April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. In addition, the first week of April is National Youth Violence Prevention Week. As an annual observance started by Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE), National Youth Violence Prevention Week enhances awareness on youth violence and creates discussion on how to prevent violence before it starts. In honor of this observance, SAVE and VetoViolence are co-sponsoring an Ask the Expert Facebook Forum event which began on April 7th and will end on April 11th.

VetoViolence is a creation by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) as a way to help increase awareness and adoption of evidenced base approaches by practitioners and other professionals in their efforts to prevent violence. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Jim Wise who is a school social worker in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and he is also the Board Chair for the National SAVE organization. This is what Jim had to say about this important month especially for us social workers:

SWH: Tell us a bit about your background, organization, and the work you do in youth violence prevention.

SAVE:   My name is Jim Wise and I am a School Social Worker in Chapel Hill NC.  I am also the Chair of the Board of Directors for National SAVE as well as being SAVE chapter advisor at Chapel Hill High School.  I have been involved in SAVE as a chapter advisor since 1996 and have worked with the National SAVE Youth Advisory Board since 1999.

SAVE was started 25 years ago in response to the shooting of a high school student named Alex Orange.  Classmates at West Charlotte High School came together the following Monday and decided that they did not want to let his death be in vain.  To make a difference they started Students Against Violence Everywhere.

Since that day, SAVE has been student driven and lead. We have chapters in elementary, middle and high schools as well as college chapters and some in community organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs.  Each chapter decides on the issues that are most relevant in their setting and does education and prevention activities to address them.  We look at 3 areas for SAVE chapters being involved in their schools and communities, Crime Prevention, Conflict Management and Service Projects.  In some schools the issues may about bullying, cyberbullying, in others it may be fights or theft or vandalism.  Whatever the issue is we look to students to be involved in possible solutions and working as part of those solutions.  Thus our motto which is “Youth Voices, Grown Up Choices”.

SWH: What are the biggest challenges and barriers to reducing violence against youth? 

SAVE:  One of the biggest challenges is finding ways to include youth in the efforts. We feel strongly that any meaningful changes need to include youth every step of the way, from problem identification to possible solutions and especially at the point where programs and initiatives are being implemented.  If we fail to have the input of young people at any of these steps we are likely to miss out on important information and opportunity.  If youth feel that they are part of a solution they are much more likely to take ownership and work to make solutions successful.

SWH: How does your organization engage and involve social workers or plan to engage in the future?

SAVE:  Social Workers are chapter advisors for some of our chapters.  We also will use local resources and experts when chapters are working on projects where education, support and additional information may be needed.  Many  chapters will invite Social Workers and other staff from local Human Services agencies to attend meetings and share the work that their groups do or act as resources in other ways.

SWH: How does the Facebook Forum to Ask an Expert work, and what other activities have been planned to help create awareness? 

SAVE: With so many young people today getting information via social media that it provides a very available forum on a national level for them to ask questions and receive quality information and answers.  We need to continue to look to our young people and where they are getting their ideas from and work to access those platforms.

Many chapters have activities planned in their schools and communities and will be inviting school and local leaders to be part of them as well as reaching out to news media in their local communities to raise awareness.

SWH: What can a regular person do to help with the prevention of youth violence?

SAVE: All of us can be aware of what is going on in our communities and take time to be in touch with young people around us.  Any time we can show concern and interest for the well being of young people that is going to have a positive impact.  Everyone can also look for ways to support positive groups and activities in their local communities.  Anytime we can engage young people in prosocial activities we are building resilience and reducing the likelihood they will become involved in negative and potentially violent behaviors.

Interested in starting a SAVE chapter for your area, please visit http://nationalsave.org/chapter-tools/chapter-registration and for more information on this week’s awareness event see below:

Youth Violence Prevention Forum
When: April 7-11, 2014
Where: VetoViolence’s Facebook page
Co-sponsor: Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE)
Why focus on youth violence? Youth violence is widespread in the US—homicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15-24.  Each year, youth homicides and assault-related injuries result in an estimated $16 billion in combined medical and work loss costs.

Photo Credits: Courtesy of SAVE 

Confidentiality Policies that Hurt Children in Child Welfare Protection Cases

A news story regarding abuse animal recently resulted in thousands of dollars in donations. The community was appropriately outraged when pictures and details of the abuse were aired by local television stations. The community responded with donations and tips that led to the identification and arrest of the abuser. It was striking that the community immediately mobilized to provide care for the dog, supporting the local rescue organization, and law enforcement in their efforts. The response was immediate and generous.

For me, the more striking aspect of this story was something unrelated. A story on Page 6 of the local newspaper reported the same day that three children had been removed and placed in foster care. A two-year-old had tested positive for exposure to three different illegal drugs.  Their babysitter called authorities when they observed that the toddler was not acting normally. The story went on to state the children lived in deplorable conditions and two children were hospitalized, but there were no donations. If there was an arrest, it was not reported. Instead of support for the organization charged with providing emergency care for the children, there was criticism that the abuse was not identified earlier.

boy with dogThe contrast in the two stories was readily apparent. The community rallied to support the animal rescue organization, law enforcement, and the veterinary clinic providing medical care for the dog. There were donations of money and supplies, assistance to law enforcement, and offers of care for the dog. The animal rescue organization issued a statement saying they did not need a home for the dog 24 hours after the story was reported; they had more than enough donations and offers of assistance.

Meanwhile, the child welfare agency was criticized, the medical provider not identified, and the role of law enforcement was not acknowledged. I doubt the story of child abuse prompted many calls offering a home for the children. Generally only stories of abandoned or abused infants generates calls from potential new foster parents or inquiries about adoption.

Why was there such a difference in response? I believe that, in part, confidentiality played a role. The names and locations of the children were not included in the news story. Details of the care required for the dog were shared while the care of the children remained confidential. The names of the alleged perpetrators of the abuse of the dog were widely publicized, including their ‘mug shots’. The rescue organizations and other community support agencies were identified. Conversely, the names of alleged perpetrators of the abuse of the children were withheld. Rarely are details of child abuse shared with the public. When there are news stories, they tend to be only the horrific cases where a child has died, has been starved, or is severely abused, and the focus generally is on ‘system failures’. For the record, I would not advocate for publicizing ‘mug shots’ of abusers in most child abuse cases. I firmly believe in a strength-based approach to treating and ultimately ending child abuse.

I understand the interest in shielding vulnerable children from media coverage, and my intent is not to compare children to animals. It is worth noting, however, that child protection emerged as a field as a result of animal protection laws. I am not one of ‘those people’ who bemoan the support received by animal rights organizations.

However, maybe child welfare could learn something from animal protection efforts. Maybe the public reporting of child abuse should be accompanied by a request for support, a list of opportunities to help. Maybe child welfare should be more transparent about the important work they do every day so that the next time a child is abused finger-pointing is replaced by offers of support. I look forward to the day that shelter care facilities for abused children are obsolete because of the abundance of foster homes available. And perhaps one day child welfare will be able to turn away offers of support. Better yet, maybe one day communities will be so engaged in protecting children that abuse reports are a rarity and replaced with a ‘norm’ of citizens reaching out to ensure children are cared for and nurtured. Perhaps one day….

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