By Claire Kendall – Co-Executive Director
Family Center of Washington County
The ripples and shockwaves from the tragic shooting events that occurred in our community last August can still be felt throughout the state. Our deepest sympathy goes out to the families of the victims who are our neighbors. At the heart of our response to this tragedy is our need to more closely examine the roles and responsibilities we all play in the pursuit of the safety and wellbeing of our children in our community.
Our child protection system is facing a sharp increase in child custody rates. It’s an alarming trend and is quickly approaching an epidemic.
Numbers show that a high percentage of these children are from families struggling with substance abuse and addiction. It’s a fact that many of these children, having been exposed to trauma at such a young age, are at greater risk of multiple physical and mental health challenges as adults.
Over time there is a high cost attached to treating these challenges. If we are to start turning the curve on child safety, and get out ahead of this crisis, we need to realize the importance of investing in prevention.
Prevention and targeted family supports play an instrumental role in identifying and addressing family risk factors so children can thrive in loving, safe environments free of abuse and neglect. We need to shift our focus to front-end prevention work, and make sure that families get the help they need when they need it.
The Family Center of Washington County, the Parent Child Center for Central Vermont, has been providing a broad range of prevention and family support services for nearly 30 years. Recently we have piloted Strengthening Families Demonstration Project. The Parent Child Centers in St. Albans and Rutland were also chosen to pilot the program. In a short time, Strengthening Families has seen incredible results. Sen. Patrick Leahy recognized the significance of this program when he said, “The Strengthening Families Program helps families and children with open DCF cases by facilitating access to mental health resources, counseling, substance abuse treatment, housing, child care and transportation. The program has already proven successful, reducing the number of children removed from 30% of all open DCF cases to 7-12% of all cases in just 18 months.”
The program is showing such impressive results that the Parent Child Center Network is asking that the Vermont Legislature bring the Strengthening Families Project to each of the 15 Parent Child Centers in Vermont in fiscal year 2017. Vermont can no longer afford to underfund prevention work. An investment in Parent Child Centers and the Strengthening Families program is an investment in the future health and welfare of our children.