With the focus this month on child abuse prevention, the role that communities can and should play is important to highlight. Communities have a great influence on families’ lives – nurturing neighborhoods can help build strong families, while inhibiting potential breeding grounds for child abuse. A neighborhood culture that encourages families to get to know each other and watch out for each other increases the safety of its youngest residents.
The 2016 Upbring Thought Leadership Conference on Prevention of Child Maltreatment, held in Austin on April 4, addressed the crucial role of the community in several sessions, including “Strong Communities for Children,” a session presented by Jill D. McLeigh, PhD, whose principal research interest has been in preventive interventions to strengthen communities’ capacity for family support, participation and mutual assistance.
A conference session on “Educational Resilience for Youth in Foster Care” – presented by Dr. Beth Gerlach and Catherine LaBrenz from the Child and Family Research Institute at UT Austin – maintained that communities who support clubs and activities, promote advocacy (i.e., CASA) and neighborhood-based programming (i.e., Boys And Girls Clubs), while also making trauma-informed sexual health education available, help decrease the risks of early parenthood and involvement in the juvenile justice system.
The following tip sheet for building strong communities was summarized from a chapter in the 2015 Prevention Resource Guide.*
Strong communities need:
- Parks and recreation facilities that are accessible, safe, and inviting places for families
- Resources to help families in need access food, jobs, medical care, and other resources
- Early education programs that are easily accessible and welcoming
- Safe, affordable housing available to all families
- Clean air and water
- Social connections
- And more…
What can you do?
The first steps are to meet and greet your neighbors, go to parents’ meetings at your child’s school and participate in activities at your local library or community center. Further steps to take include:
- Set up a playgroup in your community at homes or a local park (consider inviting people who may not have children at home, such as local seniors).
- Organize a community babysitting co-op.
- Volunteer at your child’s school through the school’s administration or the parents’ organization.
- Encourage local service providers to produce a directory of available services in the community.
- Organize a community event (a block party, father/ daughter dance, parent support group).
- Run for an office in the parent organization at your child’s school.
- Attend local government meetings (city council or school board meetings) and let them know how important resources are in your community. Let them know how parks, strong schools and accessible services help to strengthen your family and other families.
- Join or create a group in which parents and children meet regularly to play or serve together, such as scouting, a flag football league or service club.
* Download a tip sheet at www.childwelfare.gov/preventing/promoting/parenting.