Help curb child abuse by attending this forum

Mesa County has the highest per-capita incidence of substantiated cases of child abuse in Colorado — a fact The Sentinel pointed out in its series “Failure to Protect” back in September.

The first step in solving any problem is admitting you have one. The Sentinel helped shed light on an issue, but it will take a collective response from our community to improve things.

That’s why we’re inviting the community to a child abuse forum tonight at the Mesa County Workforce Center, 512 29 1/2 Road. It starts at 6 p.m.

You don’t need to have crossed paths with the child-welfare system to attend. This isn’t for foster parents or case workers or at-risk families. It’s for anyone who’s interested in curbing child abuse in Mesa County.

District Attorney Dan Rubinstein, Sheriff Matt Lewis, Police Chief John Camper and Mesa County Department of Human Services Director Tracey Garchar will help establish the scope of the problem with observations about trends and potential underlying causes. Hopefully that includes a frank discussion about the uncomfortable link between poverty and child abuse.

Participants will get a quick overview of the child-protection process, including how to identify and report cases of suspected abuse, and how the courts are involved.

From there, presenters will share “ways the average citizen can get involved,” said Janet Rowland, executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates and a forum organizer.

There are numerous programs that could be established in Mesa County to tackle the problem from different angles — each in need of volunteers and supporters. One teaches people how to politely intervene when they see a parent aggressively scolding or disciplining a child in public. Another harnesses the power of the business community to advocate for children. A faith-based program recruits families to volunteer to take in kids when parents need help — so they can avoid having open child-welfare cases.

It’s the discussion of these possibilities that should open eyes. There will be an opportunity for members of the public to ask questions and give some feedback, so it’s participatory as well as informational.

Child abuse isn’t a Department of Human Services problem. It’s a problem for all of us. Investing in prevention, treatment and innovative approaches keep children safe and families together. If we’re educated on this topic as a community, our efforts can help direct resources to people who need them. That’s better than waiting for tragedy to strike.

We’ve just experienced a divisive election with a lot of speculation about how the Trump administration will impact our lives. We’ve made this point before, but no presidential action will have more impact than the ways we confront on our own problems as a community.

If we want to live in a community with strong and safe families, we can. But we have to do our part.


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