April 29th marks the last big milestone in our month-long look at Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month. If you look back, we discussed the history of Child Abuse Prevention Month and how its beginnings relate to where we are today. We learned that we are all mandated reporters and how to recognize and report child abuse. We examined various protective factors and how to foster those in our own families.
Blue Sunday falls on the last of Sunday of April and is an opportunity for faith communities to remember victims of child abuse and those who fight on their behalf. We hope that local congregations will find big and small ways to honor those in our community impacted by abuse. And while it’s a lovely idea to do this once each year – it’s our hope that we can count on churches to join us in the fight to protect children throughout the year. Some ways our local faith-based communities can help us regularly include:
- Praying for children and families living in violence, with abuse or without the resources they need to be healthy and safe.
- Praying for the professionals in the community whose job it is to protect children and families. That includes child protective services, law enforcement, district attorneys and judges. Also, don’t forget those who are often on the front lines of hearing children’s disclosures of abuse, like teachers and mental health professionals.
- Praying for foster and adoptive families who are opening their homes and their hearts to children in crisis. They’re taking on a difficult task and they need churches to welcome these kids with open arms. If there is a foster family you know or within your organization, find out where they need support and be ready to jump in and help as needed. Welcoming a new foster child can be as challenging as bringing home a new baby – meals, laundry help, grocery runs and help with other children all are a great support.
- Committing to train church staff and volunteers who work with children. They all should know how to recognize the signs of abuse, how to minimize the risk of abuse in the church and how to make a report if they suspect abuse. Ray of Hope would be love to help facilitate professional training for your staff.
- Committing to report all suspicions of abuse to law enforcement or child protective services. Faith communities often find themselves in conflict about when to minister to families and when to report suspected abuse. The law is clear, in Oklahoma, any person who suspects abuse is mandated to make a report. Even after a report is made, the opportunity for restoration and healing remains, and the church can take an active role in helping families through any crisis.
- Committing to keep your congregation safe. Make sure that all staff and volunteers who work with children submit to a background check. If you learn of a situation that disqualifies someone from participating in a children’s ministry, be diligent in restricting that individual’s access to children.
- Seeking ways to include those who may be struggling to find the support they need. Single parents, grandparents who are raising grandchildren and even foster parents can benefit from some extra care and attention from their church family. Offer to hold a fussy baby or drop dinner by to help out a young family.
- Sponsoring mentor or peer support groups like MOPS or Celebrate Recovery for people who may be looking for ways to get involved or who want a faith-based recovery group. Hosting VBS or parent’s night out can be fun ways to connect with families.
They say it takes a village. This month, we have tried to highlight some of the ways that you can take an active role in keeping the children in our village – Bartlesville – safe from abuse. So, on these last days of Child Abuse Prevention Month, say a prayer, light a candle or simply renew your commitment to keep our kids safe in April and throughout the year. Your support makes a difference.