Sarah Newland: Growing awareness together

Spring has started to announce its presence in our community with milder temperatures, longer days and the season of growth. Spring is also the embodiment of hope and brings the opportunity for all of us to grow our awareness of child abuse and neglect.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Child abuse and neglect are significant public health issues in the United States. Multiple studies have shown adverse childhood experiences can impact children’s health well into adulthood.

Adverse childhood experiences are traumatic events that occur to children that can include physical, sexual and emotional abuse, witnessing domestic violence and living with a family member with mental health or substance use disorders.

These experiences are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness and substance use problems in adolescence, and adulthood which also can negatively impact education and job opportunities.

To increase prevention, change requires having as many people as possible aware of the need. It is estimated at least 1 in 7 children have experienced child abuse or neglect in the past year in the United States.

In Allen County, 838 reports of abuse and neglect were investigated in 2023. Of these reports, approximately 60 percent were concerns of physical and sexual abuse, with the remaining 40 percent concerns of neglect.

Also in 2023, approximately 350 children were placed outside their parents’ care due to these concerns, with an additional 215 closely monitored by our agency while remaining in their homes.

Although child abuse and neglect can affect children of all ages and families regardless of social or economic status, the opioid crisis in our community continues to impact children and families, with parental substance use continuing to be the No. 1 reason children are removed from their homes.

What role does our community play in growing awareness and prevention? Establishing strong support systems for families is essential. We are blessed to live in a community that invests in families and our youth.

Supportive services are available in our community that provide access to mental health services, parenting classes, financial literacy and crisis intervention supports. We need to continue to ensure families are utilizing these services and our community continues to invest in these programs.

We also need to create a culture of openness, where families feel comfortable seeking help for early intervention and prevention. When families have support networks and an understanding of their child’s behavior and needs, we can create healthier and safer environments for children.

We hope this spring you can help us grow awareness for the need to help protect our most vulnerable members of our community and our most precious assets: our children.

Sarah Newland is executive director of Allen County Children Services. Her column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.