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Sun., May 4, 2008

Focus must continue

April’s gone, as are most of the pinwheels that flourished during Spokane’s monthlong focus on children’s health and safety.

The underlying issue doesn’t disappear so easily, though. With or without the colorful and constant reminders – all under the banner of “Our Kids: Our Business” – child abuse and neglect must be battled the year round by individuals, agencies and a variety of social service organizations.

Let’s start with individuals. For the past two Aprils, Spokane-area citizens have been invited to sign a call to action, pledging to take specific steps on behalf of the community’s children. (The form, which can be mailed, faxed or hand-delivered, is available at /ourkids.)

Meanwhile, community leaders are figuring out how best to tap civic energy and where to direct it to suit Spokane’s distinct needs. Three organizations – The Spokane County Community Network, Spokane County Juvenile Court and West Valley School District – have substantial grants which will be applied to the purpose.

By next April, and the third installment of Our Kids: Our Business, there could be a clearer blueprint. That’s about on schedule if Mary Ann Murphy, executive director of Partners with Families and Children: Spokane, is right that enterprises like this take three years to jell.

A major challenge to be resolved for that to happen, say Murphy and others in the thick of the effort, is to change the prevailing public attitude that manages to ignore child abuse and neglect, often in friends’ and neighbors’ homes, as “none of my business.”

While social service professionals have their hands full rescuing and patching up damaged youngsters, the capacity must be developed to achieve more prevention and less intervention.

Yet at some point, the programs that emerge from this project will require reliable funding, and the taxpayers or others who pick up the tab are going to want persuasive evidence – not of services delivered but of lives improved.

In a word, results.

With Spokane’s developing University District, linked as it will be to the city’s health-care institutions, there is an obvious and permanent role in this endeavor for higher education.

If all this sounds daunting, it is hard to imagine a more worthy cause for the demands than a community’s children.

Our Kids: Our Business – the operative word is “our.”

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