Children are our link to the future and our hope for a better tomorrow. If they are to grow into healthy, happy adults and responsible citizens, we must provide our children with the love, nurturing and protection they need and deserve. Child abuse prevention begins in the home.
However, many of Oregon's children are not safe, even in their own homes. The statistics are staggering. In 2005, there were 14,254 incidents of child abuse and neglect in the state of Oregon. This is a 6.5 percent increase from the 2004 level. For Clackamas County, child abuse increased 11 percent from 2004 to 2005. Though 'stranger danger' is very real, the statistics show that 94.4 percent of child abuse is by familial perpetrators, and approximately 72.9 percent by parents.
Whether suffering neglect, harsh physical punishment, threat of harm, sexual abuse or psychological trauma, the children who survive will carry the scars of their abuse for the rest of their lives.
We know that there are a variety of risk factors that contribute to child abuse and neglect. They include parental substance abuse, lack of parenting skills and knowledge, domestic violence or extreme stress. There are practical measures and programs we use to mitigate such factors.
In Clackamas County, we are fortunate to offer substance abuse programs for adults with children, educational programs to teach parenting skills to teens, dads, Spanish- and Russian-speaking parents, and new parents. There are also faith organizations that offer respite care for parents of children with special needs, sexual abuse prevention workshops and after school programs offering recreation and tutoring assistance.
Keeping children safe is a community responsibility, and prevention must be a community task. Every segment of society must be involved, including health and law enforcement professionals, schools, businesses, the media, government agencies, community and faith organizations and especially parents themselves.
Teachers and physicians need to recognize the symptoms of child abuse. Parents need to ask for help in overcoming addictions or controlling violent behavior and communities must be willing to fund programs and services to protect children from abuse. The media also needs to raise public awareness of the availability of those programs and services.
Therefore, as a parent, a teacher, a grandparent, neighbor and a member of our community please join the fight to prevent another child from being hurt or in pain through abuse and neglect. Please recognize and report abuse. Do everything that you can do to end a child's suffering.
While child abuse prevention may begin in the home, it also is a responsibility of our community to ensure the safety of our future.
Martha Schrader is the chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners.