CCPHD, Chatham DSS encourage community to ‘be a connection’ for children

Posted 4/28/21

What is a connection? What does it mean to be connected? And what can it mean to some of the most vulnerable among us, children, particularly during a worldwide, life-changing pandemic?

April is …

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CCPHD, Chatham DSS encourage community to ‘be a connection’ for children

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What is a connection? What does it mean to be connected? And what can it mean to some of the most vulnerable among us, children, particularly during a worldwide, life-changing pandemic?

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and the Chatham County Department of Social Services is marking the occasion by celebrating this year’s theme: #BeAConnection.

“Science tells us that connections matter,” said Sharon Hirsch, Prevent Child Abuse NC president and CEO. “Our work to build positive connections, stable foundations, supportive communities and strong families where all children can thrive has never been more important than it is now as North Carolina families grapple with additional stressors from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought perhaps the most strenuous challenge our connections with one another have ever seen, and among the most affected are seniors and children. The youngest among us, who are in critical stages of social-emotional development, have had their routines upended, relationship-building interrupted and short lives changed forever because of this deadly pandemic.

While child abuse has been an issue before the pandemic, it continues to be a cause for concern. In 2020, Chatham County Child Protective Services accepted 281 reports of abuse, neglect or dependency regarding 555 children. The 2020 Community Child Protection Team report, a Chatham-focused document that outlines data on the child abuse and foster care system and provides recommendations moving forward, stated that the number was a decrease from the year before, but for a sobering reason. The decrease came most likely from reduced access to children by school system reporters during the pandemic.

It’s in this environment — where hundreds of Chatham County children each year are facing abuse, neglect or dependency ­— that the Chatham County Department of Social Services and Chatham County Public Health Department call on Chatham residents to #BeAConnection for all Chatham County children.

“We see firsthand every day why connections are important,” said Jennie Kristiansen, director of the Chatham County Department of Social Services. “When parents and children have supportive people in their lives, someone they can call on when they hit a rough patch or run into problems, we are less likely to see them in our child welfare system. Let’s all work toward being a connection for someone in our lives. It could really make a difference.”

There are many ways Chatham adults can #BeAConnection for local children, but here are a couple.

Communities in Schools of Chatham County has a program where adults can either be a “lunch buddy” or a mentor to a child in Chatham County Schools. This allows those individuals to have one-on-one time with a young person who needs that one-on-one time. Chatham resident Erika Guy has volunteered as a lunch buddy with CIS and says she remembers the first adult other than her parents who took a genuine interest in her, and she hopes she can do the same for others.

“You need other adults in a kid’s life to make them feel valued and make them feel like they have importance out in the world,” Guy said. “Connecting with kids is a vital part of what I think every adult can do. I think it instills in kids the ability to see — kids can’t be what they can’t see. Finding meaningful ways to connect with kids with experiential approaches is a really good thing for all the community.”

Kit Stanley serves as a volunteer guardian ad litem for children in North Carolina Judicial District 15b, which includes Chatham County. The GAL program equips community volunteers to investigate and determine the needs of abused and neglected children petitioned into the court system. She said GALs have a lot on their plate — working nights and weekends, lots of phone calls and writing — but she’s been able to develop strong connections with the children she represents, and that makes it worth it.

“It’s hard, but it’s fighting the good fight,” she said. “Children without connections are going to get lost, and that’s going to impact all of us. They need someone who’s going to advocate for them in the legal system if that’s necessary, in the school system if that’s necessary. These kids deserve a chance, but they have to have a chance, not only for that child, but for our community.”

Spending time with children and donating needed items for their health and well-being are just two ways all Chatham residents can #BeAConnection not just for children but for everyone. Prevent Child Abuse NC has a full list of ways to #BeAConnection on their website, Some of the other ways: leave a gas gift card at a gas pump, help a neighbor or friend who is moving, compliment the first three people you speak with today and even just sending a grateful text message to a friend.

For an individual to #BeAConnection, it turns out, can be pretty simple. And in the effort to prevent child abuse, it could make all the difference in the life of a child, whether you’re going to #BeAConnection to a child, their parents or the whole family.

“This year’s theme of Child Abuse Prevention Month fits perfectly into our primary goal as a public health department,” said Chatham County Public Health Director Mike Zelek. “We know that connections matter to developing healthy brains, caring relationships and thriving communities. For our children to be healthy in every way, they need adults in their lives who are positive influences. By committing to preventing child abuse, serving as a mentor and supporting local nonprofits that serve children, you can be that positive influence, that connection.”


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