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National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April spotlights how communities can work together to help families | COMMENTARY

Child maltreatment statistics in our nation are truly staggering. In 2019, about 2 million children received services from local and state agencies for abuse and neglect. Over 1 million received family preservation support or foster care. Tragically, there is a strong link between traumatic childhood experiences and negative outcomes in adulthood such as poor health and risky behaviors.

During April, National Child Abuse Prevention Month spotlights how communities can work together to help families thrive and prevent child abuse. Our Harford County Department of Social Services works tirelessly throughout the year to increase awareness about child and family well-being and lead the community to implement strategies to support families. Recently, social services deskwork has gone remote, but caseworkers found creative ways to continue the essential person-to-person interaction needed to address their client’s needs.

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The dedicated staff of the county’s DSS Child Protective Services helps parents find resources and coping strategies so they can parent successfully, even under stress. For some, this past year was riddled with new anxieties that tipped their balance. For example, Jill Latteri, Harford County DSS Assistant Director, reports that virtual schooling has severely limited the ability of teachers to recognize signs of abuse among their students. The watchful eyes of our local educators play an essential part of preventing child abuse in our communities. It is a bittersweet fact that child abuse and neglect referrals to Child Protective Services have rebounded now that schools are back in session.

“Our concern, first and foremost, is the safety of the child, and what the family needs to overcome challenges they may currently be facing,” according to Latteri. “Child abuse is not just a problem for my caseworkers to solve; the community plays a vital role in helping families to be healthy. We need to work together to keep our children safe.”

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Child abuse and neglect affects all Harford countians, and it is our shared responsibility to recognize and respond to it with compassion. We have the best DSS leadership and field workers in the state, and they are ready with empathy and expertise. Let us come together to protect and nurture our children and their families.

Learn more about how you can help prevent child abuse and neglect at www.childwelfare.gov.

Pat Weaver is a member of the Harford County Department of Social Services Advisory Board.

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