South Carolina’s leaders and key child-serving agencies and organizations attended an April 6 event that recognized Child Abuse Prevention Month.
On a day when Gov. Henry McMaster proclaimed April as Child Abuse Prevention Month in South Carolina during a ceremony at Columbia’s Riverfront Park, Children’s Trust CEO Sue Williams discussed the importance of evidence-based prevention programs that are the most efficient and cost-effective way to address child abuse – before it occurs.
Williams stood with Gov. McMaster, Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette, S.C. Department of Social Services State Director Michael Leach, and State Child Advocate and S.C. Department of Children’s Advocacy Director Amanda Whittle as they gathered to encourage all South Carolinians to protect the quality of life for every child.
“We have learned a lot about prevention and what it takes to build protective factors within families and communities,” Williams said. “We work upstream before the crisis of abuse and neglect ever happens. We focus on two-generation strategies and work in communities to build child and family well-being. We help parents be stronger by building their skills, enhancing their knowledge, and connecting them to resources that help them raise happy, healthy children.”
Raising awareness is a critical first step in preventing child abuse and neglect. Child Abuse Prevention Month, held annually in April, is the opportunity for organizations, government agencies, businesses, communities, neighborhoods, schools, faith-based groups and individuals to join together as a powerful voice for South Carolina’s children and families. The goal is to inspire action by the public to get involved in child abuse prevention efforts in their communities.
By displaying pinwheels, the national symbol for happy, healthy childhoods, local partners across the state can signal that comprehensive, community-based prevention efforts are at work in South Carolina. Children’s Trust, the S.C. affiliate of Prevent Child Abuse America, leads the prevention work through supporting and delivering family-serving programs, providing access to resources, building statewide and community coalitions, organizing professional training, and advocating for effective policies at the legislative level.
Leach noted that his agency is dedicated to working with partners like Children’s Trust through state and national prevention efforts in order to reach families on the front end, especially during these difficult times.
“We as a society need to make a commitment to collectively search for increasingly sophisticated and proactive, preventative ways to treat trauma and address the underlying symptoms that may be driving a family’s inability to meet their most basic, fundamental needs,” Leach said.
“At a time like this, during this pandemic, now more than ever, our South Carolina families cannot be invisible to us. While all families are impacted by this pandemic, families in poverty and families who are in marginalized populations are especially vulnerable and are at much higher risk to be left behind.”
Gov. McMaster, who attended the event with First Lady Peggy McMaster, read the Child Abuse Prevention Month proclamation (PDF) and pointed to the public health crisis of childhood trauma, which makes it difficult for families to achieve success and happiness. He encouraged the importance of providing safe environments for children while educating everyone on the need for more awareness.
Lt. Gov. Evette stated that COVID-19 kept many children out of their school classrooms over the past year, which led to a downturn in reporting of abuse because school personnel often serve as the most vigilant reporters. She saluted the agencies and organizations at the event for their work building positive parenting practices as well as family bonding and communications skills.
“We all believe good parenting is our best defense against childhood abuse and neglect,” she said. “Thank you to DSS, Children’s Advocacy and Children’s Trust for your strong commitment in creating great parents.”
Whittle, whose agency was created in 2019 by the S.C. Legislature to ensure that children receive adequate protection and care from state government services or programs, emphasized the collaboration needed across organizations to keep children safe.
“Now is the time for all South Carolinians to work together to strengthen families. Child abuse prevention is critically important to the future of our state,” Whittle said. “When we raise awareness about protective factors and provide services that promote resiliency, we improve outcomes for children.”
Williams highlighted the proven prevention programs – home visiting program models, the Strengthening Families Program, and Triple P (Positive Parenting Program) – being coordinated by Children’s Trust and implemented by local grantees that are making a real difference for children and families in the state.
“When we can help families before the incidence of abuse or neglect, we all win,” Williams said. “Most importantly, the children win.”