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Clearinghouse of ideas to fight abuse

Wed., April 30, 2008

Spokane agencies seeking solutions to child abuse and neglect have designated the Spokane County Community Network as the organization that will track ideas and proposals to address the problem.

Leaders in education, social services, juvenile justice and other fields came to that consensus following the “From Hurt to Hope: Discovering Universal Approaches to Strengthening Supportive Learning Environments and Resilience” conference, held April 22 and 23 at the Spokane Convention Center.

The Spokane network, like many others statewide, was created by and receives funding from the state’s Family Policy Council, and is charged with capturing citizen participation to tackle societal problems like child abuse and neglect.

“There is forward movement and there is energy like I haven’t seen in a long time,” said Spokane network coordinator Roy Harrington. “There is a way to harness this; we have to figure out how.” However, he added: “It’s way preliminary at this point to say what’s going to be happening. I hope there’s a number of ‘whats’. ”

Harrington said there’s renewed interest among people in joining the network, which will meet in a couple of weeks. He and others stressed that leaders in fields such as education, juvenile justice and social services also will take what they learned from the conference and work toward solutions within their own systems.

“It wasn’t an action plan adopted, it was a process adopted,” said Sally Pritchard, community impact manager with Spokane County United Way. The network “is one way to link all these different groups trying to work within specific systems.”

Progress continues to be made, said Mary Ann Murphy, executive director of Partners with Families and Children: Spokane, pointing to two grants Spokane programs recently received to address obstacles to children’s success.

Spokane Juvenile Court won a $125,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation to address juvenile justice reform. And, as reported in The Spokesman-Review, Contract-Based Education, the West Valley School District’s alternative school, received $330,000 over two years to form a network among agencies that work with children, from police to mental-health counselors. School officials hope the collaboration will lead to new approaches to dropout prevention.

In addition, conference participants are “going to have a wider vision,” Murphy said.

Harrington said the consensus among attendees – the majority of whom were local – is that Spokane needs to assume local responsibility and leadership over the issues of neglect and abuse. But solutions will only come from “dozens of conversations that stay connected,” he said.

“People were saying … we have to do something, we have to figure this out for our community,” he said. “We will begin to see pockets of activity in the school districts. We’ve already seen pockets of activity in early-learning environments.

“There’s a way in which this does become a community problem,” Harrington said. “No single entity can take care of the problem. The network would … be the home for continued discussion and a continual process of … pulling systems together around what we’re going to do.”


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