My last several posts have addressed the prevalence and dynamics of the massive child abuse and neglect issue in our country. It is indeed a perplexing set of circumstances with very few easy answers. The decline in funding complicates the picture for children and families who are struggling. Consequently, our systems of care are unable to spend the time, energy and resources to help our families change their legacies and circumstances.
As a result, abuse and neglect continues and the numbers grow
Abuse and neglect tends to continue until it is so serious that it becomes necessary to place the children in foster care. If we do not place the children in foster care, the children suffer a lifelong impact which often leads to them replicating the abusive behavior into their future families (transgenerational legacies).
The cycle will continue if left unaddressed, which is why we have escalating numbers of the incidences of child abuse and neglect in this country.
Lakeside not only sees situations of abuse and neglect in a major city in America, we actually train professionals who work these families. We are well aware of the intense struggles in dealing with families who have been identified as those who need real help.
Both children and families are in considerable pain and need expedient and thorough help. In spite of common opinions, I have found very few parents who really want to be in this position. In their own way, they usually cry for help, but there are few resources to give them the help they desperately need. Often the services that are offered are not comprehensive enough to solve the multi-dimensional problems that they face.
How can a system change to provide appropriate and thorough help?
I have attempted to help some systems who care for children to rethink the approach to families in abuse and neglect cycles. But these systems are so large, complex, political and cumbersome with all kinds of legal requirements that it is thorny and arduous to challenge them to meet the needs of families.
I do believe a well-designed and funded privatized system would best be equipped to help these families overcome such tragic obstacles. I also believe that the services rendered to families with these kinds of issues should be commensurate with the level of need.
The need could be simple, such as having someone to guide the family through changes in managing their children. Or it could be significant as a host of issues like requiring help with mental illness, drug and alcohol addictions, violence, financial stress, or relational problems.
For certain, a one-size-fits-all approach will not work.
One reality is glaringly apparent: families in crisis rarely ask for help outside of their family. They do not trust systems. Lakeside also recognizes that it takes time and a lot of relational integrity to gain their trust.
Because of severe trust issues and the complexity that is a part of the process, one intervention that I think is very effective is a Home Visitation Program. What I am advocating is that a trained family expert visits the home (for a series of visits) to build trust with the family. Once that trust has been established, the home visitor can teach, encourage, and inform parents as to how to best meet the needs of their children.
If other issues arise during the visit that are deemed more serious, the home visitor can refer the family to providers more equipped to assist with those issues. However, it is pivotal that the family trusts the home visitor. It is also important that that home visitor be a trustworthy advocate for the family. Relational integrity is vital.
Moreover, it is critical that the home visitation staff be thoroughly trained to meet the significant level of issues they might encounter.
The staff would need a diverse tool belt of relational skills both for children and parents. They also should be informed about almost every aspect of family life: child development, effective discipline, family legacies, trauma, anger, communication (and so much more). They need to be able to safely engage and create a dialogue with the family that will promote emotional and relational health toward the family’s future.
We have proved that Home Visitation Programs Work.
I am extremely confident in Home Visitation Programs because Lakeside staff was privileged to provide such a program to hundreds of families in Southeastern Pennsylvania who had been identified as abusive or neglectful to their children.
Through our program, families experienced some of the first support they had ever received. As a result of our program, almost no families returned into the abuse and neglect systems. Children were able to stay with their families and not be placed in foster care, and some families asked for another round of services because of the impact this training had in their lives.
Unfortunately this program was discontinued due to funding cuts.
It is extremely frustrating to see effective results achieved and to no longer be able to provide a way for families to get the support they need from well-trained and caring professionals.
Home Visitation is a significant opportunity to change the cycles of abuse and neglect in our families. If we continue the incidences of prevalent abuse and neglect we will continue to be overwhelmed by the extensive negative issues that we are currently facing with our families.
It is time to create effective interventions for our struggling families, and Home Visitation is one of the best opportunities I have experienced.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network