April 18, 2024

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month: We Need to Go Upstream

By Shellie Velasco, Program Officer

[In honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month, The Rees-Jones Foundation is showcasing a two-part series focusing on the importance of prevention so that children can grow up in safe, healthy families and homes. Part 1 is written by Program Officer Shellie Velasco who has over 15 years working in the child welfare space. We are grateful for her perspective on this critical topic involving children].

North Texas is fortunate to have quality organizations serving child victims of abuse and neglect. Child protection investigators, caseworkers, advocates, social workers, therapists, law enforcement officers, attorneys, judges, medical professionals and others work to help children heal from abuse and ensure their safety. I have witnessed children display tremendous resiliency after experiencing very difficult circumstances. I have known many brave children who have processed through the trauma they have endured with a therapist or testified in a courtroom in front of the person who abused them. I have worked with foster parents who have provided loving environments to children in need of substitute care. I am honored to have interacted with some incredible children and those who have dedicated time and resources to support them.

As much as I am grateful for individuals involved in the work of child welfare, I know that child abuse and neglect are preventable. The best-case scenario is for children to grow up free from abuse and neglect, in safe homes, knowing they are valued and loved.

Each year, April is recognized nationally as Child Abuse Prevention Month. Prevent Child Abuse America embraced the theme ‘Building a Hopeful Future, Together’ this year, focusing on creating a nurturing and supportive environment for children and families across the nation. They acknowledge the important connection between a happy childhood and a hopeful future for every child. You may have seen pinwheels on display or the color blue utilized in child abuse prevention marketing campaigns. It may seem a daunting task – doing the work of preventing abuse and neglect before it happens. I know it is possible, but it involves the community working upstream to support children and their families.

In fiscal year 2023, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services confirmed over 16,000 child victims of abuse or neglect in Region 3, their nineteen-county North Texas service area. What if those of us in these communities dream big and work to do what it takes to see these numbers drastically decrease? The Rees-Jones Foundation remains dedicated to encouraging healthy families and supporting organizations that offer quality services to help prevent child maltreatment.

Nonprofit agencies provide a variety of family supports including home visiting, parenting education, financial coaching, advocacy, therapy, and mentoring. Many services are not a one-time interaction, but involve months or years as parents navigate information and implement steps to positively impact their family’s future with support from those surrounding them. Most

importantly, agency staff are forming relationships with parents and their children, showing them they have people who care about them and are rooting for them to succeed.

In all of my work over the years in child welfare, I have always said it is difficult to prove prevention – to definitively point to something causing something else not to happen. In reality, I don’t believe there is only one specific thing that does or will continue to protect children from abuse or neglect. But I know that helping encourage and support healthy parenting and healthy families, in turn helps impact a healthy future for children. The Rees-Jones Foundation has been able to partner with many quality agencies doing just that.


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