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Opinion
Sarasota Friday, May 10, 2019 6 months ago

Prevention — proof it's protecting our children

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As the Child Protection Center reaches its 40th year, new data showing the child abuse rate in Florida is declining prove that its services are working and must continue.
by: Emily Walsh Publisher
Emily Walsh

In 2017, 40,103 children were identified as victims of abuse in Florida.

To child protection service agencies, that’s good news. According to the 2017 Child Maltreatment Report published in January 2019 by the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Administration for Children and Families, child abuse has declined 17.2% in Florida over the past five years.

Yet that number is still staggering. It should be zero.

Abuse is defined as neglect (74.9%), physical abuse (18.3%) and sexual abuse (8.6%), with some victims suffering two or more maltreatment types.

Luckily, Sarasota and DeSoto counties are blessed with the Child Protection Center (CPC) that through the past 40 years has aimed to tackle this problem through prevention, intervention and treatment.

HISTORY OF HELP

Founded in 1980, the Child Protection Center established its Child Protection Team (CPT), which provided child abuse intervention services alongside the Department of Children and Families and law enforcement. Since then, the agency has grown to provide four core programs in four offices in Sarasota and DeSoto counties.

Endorsed and mandated by the Department of Health, CPC expanded its programming to include the Sexual Abuse Treatment Program in 1986, which provides psychotherapy to children and families suffering from the trauma caused by sexual abuse. In 2018, 316 clients in the two counties received more than 3,500 hours of individual, family and group counseling services.

Realizing that prevention and community awareness could help stop abuse at the start, CPC launched the Personal Safety & Community Awareness Program in 1992. This program provides workshops for children from preschool to high school, informing them about inappropriate touch, abduction prevention, internet safety and bullying. Currently, the program serves all 25 elementary schools in Sarasota County.

The program also holds workshops for parents, caregivers, childcare professionals, teachers, school board staff and the greater community. As a parent attending one of these workshops, I found the information incredibly valuable for teaching me how to discuss these sensitive topics with my son in a non-confrontational and safe manner.

Turns out, apparently, I was the dummy. He said, “Mom, I already know all of that!” He had attended a session at school — proof that these programs make a deep impression.

Information also learned from this CPC prevention program is that if you suspect any kind of child abuse, all calls to the hotline are confidential (see box), although some occupations like medical professionals, school personnel or law enforcement are required to be named reporters. Through this important program, CPC conducted 1,059 workshops in 2018, serving more than 83,000 participants.

One of the goals of CPC is providing children a safe place to continue to have a relationship with their families. Court ordered in 1995, the Children & Families Supervised Visitation Program provides a safe, private and supervised child-friendly environment for children to continue their relationship with their non-resident parent.

This program is incredibly important because it decreases the risk of a child being emotionally or physically harmed when parents are in a high-conflict situation or when there is a history of domestic violence, neglect, mental illness and substance abuse.

And 40 years later, the CPC team continues to make great strides seeing more than 750 children in 2018 for forensic and specialized interviews, assessing risk factors and providing recommendations and interventions to protect children in Sarasota and DeSoto counties. 

MANDATED NOT FUNDED

One of the biggest frustrations of Executive Director Doug Staley, who has been with the agency for 25 years, is many of CPC’s programs are state-mandated yet unfunded. By law, the agency must perform and provide these services, but with less support from the state and the county government.

For example, CPC receives $215 per medical exam for abused children and a total of $69,875 for the unfunded Florida Statute 39.304(5) from Sarasota County.

“Based on our medicals provided last year, our costs were more than $170,000,” says Staley. “We’re very fortunate to live in such a great community that cares about children and helps CPC make up this difference.”

CPC’s prevention program is the longest tenured program in the state. Staley says that by engaging the community with education about child abuse we are doing a better job preventing children and families from falling through the cracks of the child welfare system.

Unfortunately, prevention programs are the first line items to be cut by government and grant funding. Depending on the year, about 48% to 52% of CPC’s funding comes from government grants.

That’s why in its 40th year, CPC is focusing intensely on growing its endowment to rely less on government funding (see box). The goal is to grow its endowment to provide perpetual financial support.

Let’s make a community effort never to leave an innocent child behind.

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