Local news

Community efforts key to prevention

“Our Kids: Our Business” is a community-wide campaign to raise awareness about child abuse and neglect in the Inland Northwest.

As the project enters its third week, a wide array of public events has been scheduled in both Spokane and Kootenai counties to celebrate the value of our children.

As a result of this unprecedented collaboration among child advocates, business leaders and media professionals, a number of elected officials from throughout the region have issued proclamations in support of the project. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire implored the state’s residents to get involved in a guest editorial a week ago in The Spokesman-Review. Every local major media outlet has devoted resources to the project.

And to date, more than 800 people have signed the Call to Action, promising to do one thing in the coming year to address the child-abuse crisis. The newspaper will begin publishing those names on Sunday, April 22.

As part of the project, The Spokesman-Review is devoting space on Page One every day during April – National Child Abuse Prevention Month – to exploring issues of abuse and maltreatment.

In the past 15 days, a team of reporters here has examined the factors that lead to abuse and offered tips on how to recognize and prevent abuse.

Today’s story by staff writer Benjamin Shors launches this week’s coverage on the emotional, physical and economic costs of abuse. You’ll be introduced to a boy named C.J., who was shaken so violently as an infant that he will require a lifetime of medical care. You’ll meet the foster parents who’ve lovingly taken him in.

Next week the newspaper changes gears to highlight the programs, agencies, caregivers and advocates who are making a difference in the lives of children.

The project culminates with the Call to Action – what you can do to make a difference.

And according to local, state and national experts, that must begin by acknowledging the scope of the problem.

According to the Washington state Department of Social and Health Services, nearly 4,200 children in Spokane County were victims of physical abuse, sexual abuse or neglect in cases accepted for investigation in 2005. In Spokane, that is a rate of about 40 victims of abuse for every 1,000 children ages birth to 17.

In a Page One story that ran on the first day of the project, staff writer JoNel Aleccia reported that although the recorded instances of abuse and neglect number in the thousands locally, experts believe they are a fraction of the actual incidents.

The national nonprofit advocacy group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids says there are two additional incidents of abuse for every one officially recorded.

Experts here say the crisis is compounded by poverty, substance abuse and mental illness – all factors that can contribute to child abuse and neglect.

As we reported on April 1, the “Our Kids: Our Business” project seeks to explore ways individuals and agencies respond to abuse. On average, children have to report acts of abuse eight times before someone believes them, according to Melissa Cilley, director of the Spokane Victim Rights Response Team at the SAFeT Response Center.

Cilley, who conducted a live online chat at the newspaper last week, said, “There is absolutely no reason for us, as adults, to require a child to demonstrate such persistence.”

To read previous stories from this project, go to spokesmanreview.com/ourkids, which was designed specially for this effort.

The site also includes a complete list of community events, child-advocacy agencies, multimedia presentations, transcripts from live chats, child abuse reports by ZIP code, and a downloadable PDF of the Call to Action.



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