Tampa, FL – To prevent child abuse, we must understand it. That’s why you’ll soon see blue pinwheels and other signs that April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. The better we understand the long-term damage that trauma inflicts on children, the better we’ll be at heading it off.
For instance, we know childhood trauma, such as regularly being hit or belittled, or witnessing domestic violence, can physically harm the body and brain for a lifetime. And statistics confirm that fully half of Florida children who come into the child welfare system are there due to parental substance abuse, compared to 39 percent of children nationwide.
So how can we help parents struggling with violence, addiction, mental illness or poverty – and keep more children in their homes and communities? Statewide, the Guardian ad Litem Program is studying trauma-informed care so that our staff and volunteers understand how trauma manifested in the nearly 40,000 children we represented in Florida’s dependency courts last year – and how we can help the children we will serve in the future.
In the 13th Judicial Circuit, which serves Hillsborough County, there are 3,020 children in the dependency system, most in out-of-home care. You can help by learning about the programs and services offered here and what you can do to make sure they are available and accessible. You can also serve on a committee or board, or write your elected officials to ask for their support of child abuse and neglect prevention. Or you can donate by attending or hosting child abuse prevention fundraising events or making a personal contribution.
According to Prevent Child Abuse America, most adults already do prevention work by mentoring children or parents (70 percent), donating time or money to groups that serve children (80 percent), or advocating for policies that improve children’s well-being (77 percent). So although you are probably involved in some form of prevention already, please consider taking it to the next level.
Can you be the voice for a child as a Guardian ad Litem volunteer? Without an advocate, the odds are against children in foster care. But studies show a child with a volunteer advocate spends 20 percent less time in foster care than a child without one, receives more critical services, and is four times more likely to find a permanent home.
We are deeply grateful for the 763 certified Guardian ad Litem volunteers in the 13th Judicial Circuit and to our many donors and community partners. Lasting change comes from your positive actions. To learn more, call (813) 272-5110 or visit www.galtampa.org