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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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We can safeguard kids, so why don’t we?

Mary Ann Murphy Special to The Spokesman-Review

E very morning as I open The Spokesman-Review, my heart sinks in dread. How many fatal child abuse stories will I read today? One? Two? Five?

Now the subject takes two reporters because there are too many stories of vulnerable children — tortured, helpless, betrayed by those they can’t depend on.

The editorial board (April 5) asks what’s become of us – as a community, as a state? If we’re not protecting our children, just what are we doing with our resources? If only we were as wise as we are rich.

I’ve been working in the field of children and family services for over 30 years. Here’s what I know: Now is truly the best of times and the worst of times.

It’s the best of times because we know exactly what is the right thing to do to strengthen families. It’s not just one action, of course. The conditions that result in the injuries and death of children are complex and multi-faceted.

Right here in Washington state, our public health nurses, highly trained in comprehensive assessment of child development and parent-child interaction, go directly into the homes of families to bring the knowledge and caring that parents need and want.

Longitudinal studies conducted over 19 years demonstrate that an investment in nurse visits to pregnant mothers following children up to age 2 can cut child-abuse rates by 80 percent. What keeps us from providing access to this resource for every possible family who could profit from it?

Our community’s heart is beautifully expressed in our premier Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery. Collectively, we’ve committed to provide nurturing for children at times of high stress, while their parents regroup. What keeps us from making this excellent facility fully operational? Somehow, we found the will and the resources to build a 23-bed facility, but we can staff only 12 beds. Vanessa Behan served 2,900 children last year; are we not concerned that 1,200 children had to be turned away? The space was there, the operating expenses weren’t.

Toni Lodge is a wise leader and director of NATIVE Project/Native Health. She deserves every accolade for developing youth leadership, treatment and a primary care clinic to minister to our most vulnerable population, heir to disastrous public policies that have decimated their family structure. Toni is repairing the harm, but our city policy makers couldn’t find room in their priorities to appropriate any funds for human services for our First People. The worst of times.

Another Spokane innovation is the Marycliff Institute’s Circle of Security. Distilling 30 years of research on parent-child attachment into a user-friendly model that any 15-year-old can readily understand, it focuses on the core issue: the relationship between parent and child, the blueprint for all other relationships. Dozens of Spokane agencies are eagerly learning and applying these principles to thousands of families. Why can’t every Spokane family be exposed to this knowledge that can uplift us all?

We’ve learned one thing in Spokane that eludes many other communities – we’ve learned to work together. We’ve learned that none of us can make a difference alone; we must hold hands and take the best from each of us to make the whole a better place.

We can’t leave the business of child protection to “the government.” It’s the job of all of us. A well-respected social worker for Child Protective Services confided that she feels bereft.

There used to be so many ways she could enter a family’s life and offer tangible help. She had funds to help find safer housing. She could provide therapeutic child care. Public health nurses and family preservation counselors could come to the homes. A specialized family treatment program was offered at Spokane Mental Health with targeted interventions for fathers as well as moms.

Now, her tool kit is almost empty, even though we have research findings at Partners with Families & Children that integrating health, child welfare, mental health and chemical dependency treatment, “wrapping” therapeutic services around families with a “whatever it takes” attitude, is not only effective in the short run but less costly.

What kind of community do we want to be? How many more stories of lost children will it take before we find the will to use what we know right now will make a difference?

Remind me again – what are we choosing that’s more important than our children?

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