GREENFIELD — A group of local people has organized a new council aimed at curbing child abuse in Hancock County.
On Tuesday, about 20 community members from all walks of life showed up for the first meeting of the Hancock County Child Abuse Prevention Council.
For the past few months, community members and representatives from the Hancock County Prosecutor’s Office, Children’s Bureau of Indianapolis, Love In the Name of Christ, Hancock County Probation, Prevent Child Abuse Indiana and Hancock Regional Hospital have been meeting to work to assess the need for a council. And they took the first steps to organizing one.
Mary Armstrong-Smith, community partners director for Prevent Child Abuse, said work toward a coalition in Hancock County began when her organization reached out to Love INC and other community groups.
There are already 42 other councils in Indiana, and Prevent Child Abuse would like to see one in all 92 counties.
In general, the councils’ goals are to educate their communities, encourage parents and communities to seek help and be supportive, have meaningful involvement in the community and promote solutions.
How that mission takes shape depends on each community’s needs.
Child abuse and neglect is a difficult subject for many people to discuss openly, but talking about prevention makes for stronger communities, Armstrong-Smith said.
“We recoil from the idea of anyone hurting a child,” she said. “Social problems like child abuse and neglect can be caught early, and that’s the beauty of it.”
Jim Peters, director of Love INC, said his organization has a stake in preventing child abuse because it works with struggling families and children.
Families facing financial crises can inadvertently put children in danger, Peters explained.
Many times when a family is strapped for cash, parents choose to cut child care, but it’s imperative children are safe and not left in the care of someone who will hurt them, Peters said.
“Contrary to what we hear about ‘stranger danger,’ the bulk of child abuse comes from the hands of a family member or a trusted child care provider,” he said.
Armstrong-Smith said forming a council gives the community a chance to work together to support families and children, putting together resources and steering those in the position to make a difference in a common direction.
“Everybody benefits … when families do a good job of raising the next generation,” she said.
Jennifer Johnson, community partner for child safety at Children’s Bureau in Indianapolis, said the coalition will give residents an outlet to speak up about child abuse and neglect.
“People see things happening, and they don’t know how to report it or they’re scared to,” she said. “Having this awareness out there and getting this information out there helps people know what to do with it.”
The way councils promote solutions depends on what community members determine are their areas’ greatest needs, Armstrong-Smith said.
Councils in each community looks different.
In Vanderburgh County, a prevention council worked with a child supply store to provide playpens to families lacking bedding for infants. The council took the measure after learning of a number of infant deaths caused by improper sleeping arrangements.
In Adams County, the council focused on creating opportunities for families to come together in a safe environment by organizing an annual family-friendly event in the community.
In Hancock County, council members will work with Department of Child Services and other organizations to identify needs before taking the next steps. They’re also looking for additional community members to join the effort.
Armstrong-Smith is excited to see the council taking shape.
“Preventing abuse and neglect is absolutely vital,” she said. “Children are one-third of our population and 100 percent of our future. They’re everything we’ve got.”
Community members interested in becoming involved with the Child Abuse Prevention Council should contact Jim Peters, director of Love In the Name of Christ, for more information.
He can be reached by calling 317-372-2304 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next meeting of the Child Abuse Prevention Council will be at 6 p.m. May 28 at Hancock Regional Hospital, 801 N. State St., Greenfield.