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April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and this year’s theme of Strong and Thriving Families is especially compelling in the midst of the challenges facing our country because of COVID-19.
The opportunity every April to educate about vulnerable children and families and what we can do to support them as communities of caring people has launched in the midst of a crisis that elevated the use of the word “unprecedented” to daily conversation.
Every day, I am surrounded by people who give their lives to helping others. This crisis has led them to give even more. They are sitting in virtual meetings, brainstorming new ways to offer extra support to families that are struggling.
These families are now facing lost jobs, unstable futures, having to visit their children in a virtual chat room rather than a living room. Normal stressors are exacerbated by school closures and empty bread aisles. A storm is brewing for many families and they deserve our help.
There are tools to make a difference. Child and family well-being organizations like Saint Francis Ministries offer decades of experience in helping families build foundations that strengthen them, and yes, help them thrive.
Today, we are looking beyond the weeks of quarantines and stay-in-place orders. We are looking into months of supporting families and children who are being destabilized by new traumas that add to the hurts and damage that already dwelled in their hearts.
They will need your help. All of those who support them will need your help, from community mental health centers to the medical world that surely will reel for months to child care providers and foster families.
Beginning now, this minute, our communities must extend their support to vulnerable families.
We know, and research supports, that developing coping skills and strengthening families is not only possible but achievable. In the coming weeks and months, communities and individuals will be called to step forward to help families rebuild their foundations, to offer healing, and mostly, to offer hope.
You will be called to become foster parents, to financially support programs if you are able, to ask your legislators to craft legislation that incorporates trauma-informed policies, to be part of the solution. Find a local organization and ask their needs. One such organization, CarePortal, collects items nationwide for foster and kinship families.
Saint Francis and others all share needs and ways to help on their websites.
For now, please support families — yours and your neighbor’s. The simplest of acts can steady those who are teetering. A smile and quick chat, even from six feet down the sidewalk. A pan of brownies left at the door. A box of craft supplies donated for boring afternoons at home.
I often say that I believe we are made by, in, and for community. Archbishop Desmond Tutu says that by each of us doing our own little part of honoring the common good, we change the world.
I encourage you, in these days of concern, in this month when we seek to honor all it takes to prevent child abuse, to do what you can to support your community and our common life together.
The Very Rev. Robert N. Smith is dean, president and CEO of Saint Francis Ministries.