Five people working with children in Chatham explain why community matters

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month (CAPM), a time to remember that preventing child abuse is about creating strong supports where all families have access to needed services for their children.

North Carolina’s theme for CAPM is “Growing Up Better Together”, a reminder that an entire community can play a part in ensuring our children grow up to be healthy and safe, that they can live and thrive. in a community that values ​​their social and emotional well-being. This is all the more important as children and their families continue to face challenges as they recover and adapt to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Association of Children’s Hospitals declared a national emergency, stating, “The pandemic has undermined the safety and stability of families. More than 140,000 children in the United States have lost a primary and/or secondary caregiver, with young people of color being disproportionately affected. We care for young people whose rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness and suicidality are increasing, which will have lasting impacts on them, their families and their communities. We must identify strategies to address these challenges through innovation and action, using state, local and national approaches to improve access and quality of care along the continuum of promotion, prevention and mental health treatment. “

Many organizations in Chatham County have maintained this focus on child welfare, and a few of them have shared why they do what they do and how a community can make a difference in children’s lives. a kid.

Angie Stephenson is a solicitor with the law firm of Stephenson & Fleming in Chapel Hill. Her practice focuses on family law, which means she works with adoptive and foster parents and departments of social services, including the Chatham County Department of Social Services (DSS). A former foster social worker herself, Stephenson says she works with social workers to advocate for the protection of children and work to reunite them safely with their families and that her role is to do that. what is best for each child who is going through an often traumatic time. .

She adds that community is “so important in child welfare.” Stephenson listed several ways people can help become foster or adoptive parents, volunteer as guardian ad litem, or develop resources “to remove barriers to reunification or other modes of permanency.” .

“While transportation and housing can still be challenging in our predominantly rural county, Chatham County has made great strides, and I hope that trajectory will continue as the county grows,” he said. she stated.

Della B. Richardson is the director of the Telamon Chatham County Startup Center in Siler City. The facility offers early childhood and family support. Eligibility for the program is based on family income at or below the poverty line, which means that children served by Telamon centers are among the most needy.

Richardson worked in corporate America, but wanted to do something that “ignites learning in children” and “ensures that every child and every family receives the best opportunities to thrive.” She said Telamon not only provides education for very young children, but directs families to or provides resources for essential services or needs like food, shelter, transportation or health care. This happens best in a community, she says, when everyone is working together.

“In collaboration, everyone needs to have a seat at the table, so all of our voices can be heard,” she says. “We need to determine the needs of the community and the families it serves. We assess, research, educate and provide viable options to implement strategies for success. We have safeguards in place to ensure needs are met.

Alicia Doran is a Public Health Social Worker and Healthy Families Coordinator with the Chatham County Public Health Department. Doran went to college to be an elementary school art teacher, but spent summers in Latin America and South America, developing a passion for helping families, especially immigrant families. She referred to the connection between social work and public health, saying that both are “rooted in the belief that to address fundamental population health issues, such as the prevention of child abuse, society must address all of the factors that influence a family’s overall health and well-being.”

Doran currently works with families teaching them parenting skills, helping them access resources, and accompanying them through “increasingly complex health and social care systems.” However, she adds, people like her and institutions like hers need to look further upstream at systems and institutions, as well as issues like systemic racism and other long-standing inequalities, for change to happen. occur.

“I hope that in Chatham we can come to a place where we lift each other up and where every family has the resources they need when they need them,” says Doran. “So it is not just the job of social workers, teachers, child care providers and church leaders to prevent child abuse, but the responsibility of every adult to protect the most vulnerable among us. As we emerge from the Covid fog, I hope to see people reconnect and begin to rebuild the “little villages” we need to protect our most vulnerable families.

One of Doran’s colleagues in the Public Health Department, Anthony Izzard, is the coordinator of the Focus on Fathers program, an initiative that connects young fathers with parenting education, one-on-one fatherhood counseling and small group discussions. . Izzard’s clients are referred to him by Chatham DSS and have children aged 0-5. The program has three goals: to help fathers work with their children at home and help them make positive choices, to build trust between fathers and support each other, and to be a family in the community.

Izzard and Nellie Benitez, who serve Hispanic/Latin dads in the program, are, he says, focused on “making life a little easier to navigate” for their clients. He praises Benitez for his “vital role” in ensuring that Focus on Fathers can “serve all”. He has worked in the field for over 20 years after being asked by a school principal to mentor high school students who were fathers. Through his experiences, he said he discovered that “it takes a whole village” to help children.

“Sometimes it’s the little things that can make a big difference,” says Izzard. “The community could be the catalyst for upliftment and sharing as well as community agencies. Working together in any capacity could be beneficial for all.

Finally, there is Christine Esezobor. She says she was “unknowingly influenced” by her mother, who worked in social work for more than 30 years, and now is the LINKS coordinator for the Chatham County Department of Social Services. Designed for young people aged 13-20 who are currently or have been in foster care, LINKS helps young people build community relationships, secure access to medical care, plan career and educational goals , and more.

The goal of the program, says Esezobor, is to prepare these young people to become successful adults in the community. The LINKS program covers so many areas, but there are practical things, small things, that the community can do to help prepare young people for their next steps.

“We can support positive relationships for our future generation by sharing a skill like changing a tire to help someone with reliable transportation, or financial advice to support economic efficiency. We can also share resources and identify community needs to reduce the stress children and families may experience.

In the post-COVID world, children and families may face more stress and pressure than ever. The United States Surgeon General, in its recent Youth Mental Health Advisory, outlined important steps that family members and caregivers can take to support children and youth. These steps include:

• Be the best role model you can be for young people by taking care of your own mental and physical health.

• Help children and young people develop strong, secure and stable relationships with you and other supportive adults.

• Encourage children and youth to build healthy social relationships with their peers.

• Do your best to provide children and youth with a supportive, stable and predictable home and neighborhood environment.

• Try to minimize negative influences and behaviors in young people’s lives.

• Make sure children and young people have regular checkups with a pediatrician, family doctor or other healthcare professional.

• Be on the lookout for warning signs of distress and ask for help if needed.

• Minimize children’s access to means of self-harm, including firearms and prescription drugs.

• Pay attention to how children and young people spend time online.

• Be a voice for mental health in your community.

All Chatham County residents can play a role by following these steps and the examples of Stephenson, Richardson, Doran, Izzard and Esezobor; if not by working directly in these areas, they can do their part in their own spheres to positively influence a child’s life.

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