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Fight against child abuse, neglect continues

It was both a beginning and an end.

Community leaders gathered for the last in a series of meetings to grapple with the problem of child abuse and neglect in St. Francois County, but most outlined ambitious plans that will be an ongoing and continuing effort.

Eight areas were identified in the community workshop, and each area developed at least one continuing project it will be spearheading to make a difference.

Lisa Williamson chaired the Alternative Care committee, which looked at the needs for foster parents and grandparents raising grandchildren.

They are developing a display that will travel to area churches explaining the backpack program, as well as foster parenting needs and resources for grandparents.

The backpack program puts together age-appropriate kits for youths entering foster care to help them get through their first night. Such children often enter the system with nothing more than the clothes on their back. It may be very late at night, as well, and the backpack ensures they have everything they need without a midnight shopping trip.

A typical backpack would contain a toothbrush as well as other necessary items. For younger children, it might contain a stuffed animal.

Kathy Smithmier with East Missouri Action Agency talked about the need for transportation and said her group, the Economic Development and Transportation committee, would be developing a resource guide and would be exploring ways to increase consumer education opportunities. Classes in personal finance are among the possibilities.

In addition, she also talked about the bootstrap program, which not only helps entrepreneurs develop a business plan, but sometimes provides grant money to assist with startup costs.

The program has helped several people in the area start low-cost enterprises, and she believes the program could be expanded.

Larry Gray was the chair of the Faith Community. They will be promoting a Blue Sunday campaign to raise awareness of child abuse and neglect. They hope to get as many area churches as possible to get involved in the project.

Examples of activities for Blue Sunday might include inviting a social worker to speak at the Sunday services, providing informational displays about foster care. They will also spearhead a campaign for youths called Blue Wednesday, similar to Blue Sunday but aimed at youths.

They will be purchasing a Christian parenting curriculum and offering train the trainer workshops for Christian leaders in the community. The hope is that many churches in the area will then begin offering the curriculum to parents.

Michele Northcutt, who chaired the health/mental health committee, said a common problem she feels is that people trying to get services are bounced around from place to place. She wants to put together a comprehensive directory of services for families, so that this does not happen. They will also explore ways to increase availability of individual/family counseling.

David Braun, who chaired the Parent Education and Mentoring committee talked about developing a “warm line” instead of the traditional hotline. He explained that people use a hotline when things have boiled over and already gone too far. He’d like to see a warmline where parents can call in before things have reached that point and get trained professional advice to help them solve the problems that are bothering them.

Braun also had high praise for the program Parents as Teachers. The educational program features in home visits with parents, to show them some fun activities they can do with their children to help them learn and grow.

In addition, they will be looking at scholarships to promote recognition of the gifts children have, and will be collecting information on groups that provide family-oriented training.

Mark Toti, with KREI/KTJJ Radio and Jim York, publisher of the Daily Journal, discussed plans to develop public service announcements and a Web site directory listing various resources developed by the committees.

York created a photo and essay contest about family from children. The project gave a voice to what children in the community think is most important about family.

It was the little things, York said, that impressed our children the most. Baking cookies, taking a walk, playing with grandpa.

One suggestion from committee members in the audience was to turn the articles and artwork into a traveling display with information about resources for healthy families.

Mike Easter, chair of the substance abuse committee, said their group is interested in developing a drug court, but they are waiting to see what happens with that on a state level. They are also developing a resource guide.

And last, but not least, Branson Merrill and Lynna Lawson presented some ideas to encourage youth involvement.

They will be compiling a list of youth activities and organizing it for distribution as a guide at youth events. The information is also to be published on a Web site.

They will be developing a parenting and life skills curriculum for 9th graders, a child abuse and neglect curriculum that is age-appropriate for second graders, and they want to establish a PAVE anti-violence program in area high schools.

These are all projects that will be worked on during the coming year. It is not too late to get involved with one, say conference organizers, Al Sullivan, with the St. Francois County Community Partnership, and Meg Stevenson, with Children’s Haven. Just visit the Web site for the community partnership, and drop an e-mail for more information.

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