The death of a five-year-old Redmond girl, allegedly due to starvation and withholding of medical care by her parents.

The sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl over the course of several months, allegedly by a family acquaintance.

The alleged neglect and drugging of several children, ages six months to four years, by their day care provider.

Those are just a few of the recent headlines related to kids in Central Oregon. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, with a Blue Ribbon Campaign as part of the effort. Together they endeavor to shine a light on the issue of child abuse and neglect in our communities, and focus community awareness on the effort to protect children.

Gov. Kate Brown has indicated that she believes we are approaching a crisis situation in the child welfare arena, and that we need to bring people together to protect children’s safety. She has spoken to the issue of increasing funding for these services—and last week, put a state hiring freeze in effect. During an interview with the Source Weekly last week, she told us the hiring freeze was aimed, at least in part, toward finding the money for critical services for children and families. As it stands, the current budget proposals being floated in Salem include significant cuts to education and health and human services.

The sheer numbers of abused and neglected children in the state can be overwhelming. According to Pat Carey, Region 10 (Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson Counties) director of the Department of Human Services, there were over 3,600 calls to the child abuse hotline in the tri-counties in 2016. There are 20 Child Protective Service (CPS) workers in the tri-county area charged with investigating these reports. For the same year, there were 307 children in protective care. Currently, Child Welfare is staffed at 82 percent, with 51 percent of caseworkers having less than 18 months’ experience, and supervisory staff averaging three to four years of experience. This places stress on the system in multiple ways. Often, it means relegating casework to crisis management rather than to delivering services.

In Central Oregon, a cadre of community partners works on solutions, seeing child abuse and neglect as a community issue, and understanding that prevention can come through intervention. These are organizations—often dependent on volunteer support—that provide services including comprehensive medical and therapeutic evaluations, therapy and counseling services, various services for vulnerable and distressed families, emergency housing and services for victims of domestic violence, advocacy for dependent children in the court system, and community trainings in the area of child abuse and neglect. Organizations include KIDS Center, Mountain Star Relief Nursery, Family Resource Center, Healthy Beginnings, the CASA program, FAN, Saving Grace, Mary’s Place and many more.

Recognizing child abuse and neglect is a crucial part of raising community awareness. The Darkness to Light training offered by KIDS Center is an example of a program aimed at providing training for this very purpose. Shelly Smith, executive director of KIDS Center, says they reached their goal of training 5 percent of the adult population in the tri-counties in Central Oregon at the end of 2016. Utilizing programs such as this go beyond harnessing the good will of a community, and instead engage the community in the nuts and bolts of protecting kids.

As Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel explained when discussing his office’s role in prosecuting such cases, there’s often a tension between the issue of accountability and what is in the best interests of the child. He went on to express that these are often the most difficult cases his office prosecutes, and can have a lasting impact on prosecutors.

Some point to what they refer to as a “failed system,” implying that those involved with trying to protect the community’s vulnerable children have dropped the ball. In reality, those involved say they have not lacked purpose, but rather lacked full capacity and resources to do the job.

As Child Abuse Prevention month ends this month, advocates remind you to wear your blue ribbon, but also think about how you can get involved. They recommend volunteering, taking a Darkness to Light training, or participating in a community conversation, such as Spark.

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