April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. We all understand that the best way to prevent the abuse of children is to strengthen families. Today I’d like to share the story of state employees whose intervention stabilized a family and allowed a mother to keep her children.
Too often, help for abused children arrives too late. In Mountain Home, a call from police set the system in motion, and DHS caseworkers from the Division of Children and Family Services came to a family’s aid before the family spiraled out of control.
When police arrested a woman for driving under the influence for a second straight night, they contacted DHS staff to alert them that the woman’s children were not safe with her. The staff reacted quickly and found foster care for the children. With the support of the DHS caseworkers, the mother successfully completed substance-abuse treatment. Three months later, the DHS employees reunited the mother with her children. With the help of the caseworkers at DHS, the mother had established a support system and changed the future for her family. The case has now been closed.
The happy ending to this story was possible because our DHS employees are well trained and compassionate. But many stories don’t end well, as the First Lady has seen firsthand. What she saw “captured her heart,” as she says, which is why she supports the Children Advocacy Centers of Arkansas.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve heard much about the frontline workers. In family issues, school teachers and pastors are among the frontline workers because they interact with children on a regular basis.
Since I declared a health emergency more than a year ago, the child abuse hotline has received over 3,100 calls. That is almost fifty percent fewer than the number of reports the previous year. But that’s not because there is less abuse of children.
During times when children spend more time at home, whether it’s during a rare health crisis or every summer when they are out of school, abuse goes undetected, says Elizabeth Pulley, director of Children Advocacy Centers of Arkansas. That’s because professionals such as teachers and pastors who are required to report suspected abuse aren’t interacting with the children. That means the rest of us must remain more vigilant in observing the young people we encounter.
The welfare of children is a high priority for the First Lady and me, both personally and in my role as governor. My office has a liaison who is in daily communication with the various agencies and organizations that oversee the protection of our children. We have a great partnership with the Department of Human Services and Division of Children and Family Services. We want to prevent abuse rather than react to it, as DHS staff was able to do in Mountain Home. Our hope and goal is that all the stories can have a happy ending.