Children’s Trust hosted its first Freshman Academy to brief newly-elected public officials on children’s issues in advance of the 2019 session of the S.C. General Assembly. Neil White, who tells the stories of Children’s Trust, covered the event.

Freshman Academy

Darnell McPherson (left), Darlington County First Steps executive director, chats with Sonja Milisic (center), an adviser to the lieutenant governor, and new Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette (right) at the Freshman Academy.

Annie McDaniel cares about making the lives of children better.

As the newly-elected S.C. House representative from Fairfield County, McDaniel spent 18 years on the local school board working to level the playing field so that all children had the opportunity to become something great and give back to their communities and their state.

That’s why she was eager to participate in the Freshman Academy hosted in December by Children’s Trust. In partnership with the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children, it brought in new public officials for a one-day training on the issues of child abuse and neglect, the web of social and economic factors around them, and the primary role of evidence-based prevention programs in reducing abuse and neglect.

McDaniel connected with the day-long discussions as they will relate to her role as a children’s advocate now serving as a Democratic member of the state legislature.

Freshman Academy

Rep. Annie McDaniel and Rep. Seth Rose listen to a presentation by lawmakers and staff with the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children.

“I’m just so passionate because that’s the opportunity for us to take our life experiences to help shape these children so they can be better citizens,” McDaniel said. “And to me, the more you educate children, the more you provide them with those health care needs and other needs, then the less you have to worry about paying on the back end, the less crime you have to worry about, and the less medical issues you have to worry about. It just makes for a better America.”

Neil Mellen, the director of policy at Children’s Trust, put together the event, which featured CEO Sue Williams speaking about the organization’s role.  There also was a presentation and panel discussion with two members of the Committee on Children, Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, and Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort. They were joined by Amanda Adler, senior resource attorney with the Committee on Children.

Along with McDaniel, attendees included Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette, the running mate of Gov. Henry McMaster; William Bailey, the newly-elected GOP representative from Horry County; and Seth Rose, the newly-elected Democratic representative from Richland County.

Freshman Academy

Neil Mellen, Children’s Trust director of policy, explains the organization’s role in child abuse prevention across South Carolina.

“Talking with newly-elected officials about the power of prevention was great. It is exciting to be working with public servants eager to get in the weeds and tackle challenges,” Mellen said. “We were lucky to have interested, engaged, and solution-oriented public servants come to the Freshman Academy, as well as veteran lawmakers who helped instruct and guide our conversations about the value of prevention.”

The day served as a chance to engage current and future lawmakers on the good work being done for children and families in legislative districts across the state. It included presentations on child well-being in the state, adverse childhood experiences, and the statewide maltreatment profile.

A Learning Experience for Attendees

Evette appreciated the information provided over the course of the day as she prepared to take office. She liked the idea of bringing business and community leaders into the conversations on making the lives of children better. It was helpful for her to hear how Children’s Trust works with local partners across South Carolina to implement prevention programs, hold trainings for child-serving professionals, and build community coalitions that bring more people to the table on child well-being issues.

“I want to see who has already got it figured out, who is doing what, so that when I’m traveling the state and somebody tells me of a problem, I can be well-educated,” said Evette, who calls herself a mom first and foremost. “That’s the first step in prevention, trying to make sure we have all the information at our fingertips. I’m very intrigued about how we do that. I think preventing abuse on the front end has got to be the best (solution).”

Freshman Academy

Rep. Shannon Erickson, Sen. Brad Hutto and attorney Amanda Adler with the Committee on Children discuss how research around children’s issues can lead to meaningful policies and legislation.

As an attorney and former prosecutor, Rose attended the event because of his interest in children’s issues. He wants to know the challenges that child-serving organizations face and what he can do as a lawmaker to facilitate meaningful change for children in the systems around education, health, social services and the courts.

He also believes in the importance of addressing issues before situations get worse. Prevention programs can help strengthen families and keep children safe, which can lead to healthier, happier kids who finish school, stay out of legal trouble, grow into productive adults, and break generational cycles of abusive behavior and poverty.

“As a state and a community and a county, we need to be more proactive than being reactive, and, right now, on a lot of issues, we are being more reactive than getting ahead of it. Something occurs, and then we react,” Rose said. “Why don’t we get ahead of it? Why don’t we find out what the issues are and do something before it becomes a problem? That’s part of why I’m here, to see how we can be more proactive as a state legislature.”

Legislators Hear From Local Practitioners

Rep. Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, gave a presentation on the updated mandated reporter law, which legally requires specific people, because of their profession, to report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect to the relevant authorities. These laws are in place to prevent children from being abused as well as end any abuse or neglect at the earliest possible stage.

Freshman Academy

The creation of a State Child Advocate was a significant step in the 2018 legislative session.

Williams, the Children’s Trust CEO, led a panel discussion to end the day on prevention that works. The panel included Georgia Deal, director of early education services at Carolina Health Centers in Greenwood; Sallie Bozard, a retired parent education specialist in Lexington District One; Darnell McPherson, executive director of Darlington County First Steps; and Brad Thomas, president and chief operating officer of Triple P (Positive Parenting Program) America.

These are key partners in the work of Children’s Trust, and they spoke to the positive impact that direct services can have for children and families. McPherson appreciated the opportunity to have a meaningful dialogue with the new lawmakers.

“Individuals elected to public service have a variety of things that they’re looking at, and I think that we can strike a chord with them and help them now that if you’re going to plan for the future, and you’re going to have a great South Carolina, we’ve got to do more for our children,” McPherson said. “They need to have a better understanding of the issues, they need to know who the key players are, they need to know what has been happening in the past, what this KIDS COUNT (data) tells us, what have been the improvements over the years, and what are some of the critical areas we need to be focusing on.”

Freshman Academy

Rep. William Bailey chats with Lt. Gov. Evette during the course of the day.

Bailey, a former public safety director in North Myrtle Beach, was eager to soak up the knowledge before the legislative session begins.

“This is about the future. Our children of this state and our country are going to be taking care of everything in the future so we need to make sure that we can do the best we can by them,” Bailey said. “I thought I could benefit by being here to learn as much as possible.”

Children’s Trust is a statewide nonprofit established by South Carolina’s legislature to fund the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Educating policymakers about the child welfare system, and the specific role of primary prevention, is integral to its work.