April is child abuse prevention month. Of course most of us know that every month is child abuse prevention month, except (to state the obvious) those who abuse their children.
There is good news. The incidents of reported child abuse are down dramatically. I'd like to say that this is a wholly positive development but the cynic in me attributes the drop to a combination of proof that prevention education works along with abusers learning how not to get caught. Abusers are adapting, learning the systems in place to catch them. It's not hard; anyone can watch it on TV every night of the week on any of the police dramas.
There's more good news, this time devoid of any cynicism. There is an army out there doing what parents should be doing themselves; protecting children from abuse.
This army comprises law enforcement, child advocates, volunteers, social workers, nurses, health departments, doctors, interviewers, lawyers, judges, DA's, investigators, outreach specialist groups, NGO's, non-profits - the list is long. All of these people commit their lives or volunteer their free time to caring for the children who parents abuse and society, shamefully, neglects.
We hear few accolades for these people who seek no thanks. Their success is measured in lives saved, childhoods recovered and children who know that someone cares about them.
Not all of them are appreciated for the work that they do. Take, for example, case-workers who work for the various State run Departments of Children and Family Services. Many are graduate students who's first foray into the real world is to be handed 20-30 cases, some training, and a pat on the back before wading neck deep into a stark reality that they are expected to not only face but also manage.
These case-workers are overwhelmed with near-insurmountable work and given impossible case-loads. It's thankless potentially career-destroying work. Career destroying? Sure. When a child in care is injured or killed the case-worker is generally the first person thrown under the bus. Their names, images, personal details are shown on TV and recorded in the media. These advocates are expected to be super-human, capable of detecting lies from those families who wish to deceive them, capable of being in 30 different places at one time (including weekly visits to court), expected to compress into a 40-hour week what in reality intrudes late into their evenings and weekends without additional pay. Despite all of this it is their dedication to the children in their care that keeps them there.
They are but one division in the army of advocates, from all walks of life, who are the only line of defense for vulnerable children from those who would, and do, harm them. Their growing presence, expertise and effectiveness worries child abusers. And be in no doubt that they are experts, their swords sharpened on the files of hard-earned experience.
I don't like the word 'hero.' It's been so over-used as to be near meaningless, but I can think of no other. These people are unsung heroes; I've met a lot of them from North America, Europe, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Their dedication to protecting children is beyond a job, it's a vocation, because they do willingly what the rest of us won't. Some put themselves in harm's way regularly to ensure that children are adequately protected or given a second chance at childhood. And they do so because they know it has to be done.
So what's new? Knowing these people are there is what's new. Knowing that 'child protection' is more than a catch phrase - it's real and tangible. Knowing that the tide has turned and abusers are being brought to task for hurting the helpless among us.
This year instead of clicking the 'Like' button on some Facebook children's cause, take a moment to thank those who take care of society's neglected and abused children. A cop, a case-worker, an advocate, a nurse, a volunteer, whomever. They're a phone call, an email, a direct message away. Take the time to say 'thanks.' Thanks for a job well done. And maybe ask if there is anything you can do to help; there's plenty more work to be done.