By Stephen Smoot
“Our biggest thing is to raise community awareness,” said Toniue Dyer from the Partnership for Prevention. The organization held a child abuse awareness and prevention event last Saturday in Franklin Town Park.
The event included a free day at the pool, limited free food, and a pavilion filled with resources provided by agency representatives.
According to Psychology Today, as of last year one in five children grow up in a home where parents abuse drugs or alcohol. These children have a far greater likelihood of developing their own substance addictions, either modeling behaviors they see or escaping from their results.
More tragic, one in three of these children will see physical abuse, sexual abuse, or profound neglect.
“Early exposure to a home divided by drug use,” according to the Addiction Center website, “can cause a child to feel emotionally and physically neglected and unsafe. As a result, they can become more mentally and emotionally unstable.” All too many of these children turn to substances themselves to self-medicate through these problems.
The Partnership for Prevention seeks to intervene in the cycle before children experience the damage caused by dysfunction caused by drugs or other family stressors such as poverty, instability, and other issues.
For this purpose, the Town of Franklin granted use of the pool and surrounding grounds. Partnership for Prevention then brought together vital community resources that families could use.
Dyer and Brenda Witt manned the greeting table. Although they had a tent, the weather cooperated perfectly with the event. The expected scattered showers never came and temperatures remained pleasantly in the mid 80s.
“When you don’t have a strong family base,” Dyer said, “a lot of times the children suffer for it. Most of the agencies and resources at the event focused on family aid and resiliency.
One key challenge for low income working families lies in finding reliable and safe child care. Mountain Heart Community Services attacks the problem from both the supply and demand side. “We really need child care providers in this area,” said Edna Mullenax, one of the event organizers.
Mountain Heart recruits qualified individuals who can pass a background check to undergo state mandated training to serve as an independent child care provider. They then refer parents with child care needs to them. Payment required for child care is charged on a sliding scale based on household finances.
Potomac Highlands Guild sent Raj Masih and his wife, Barbara, to spread the word about the importance of prevention. Masih is the lead coordinator with the West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy.
Masih shared that the state is developing a predictive system that analyzes drug activity and traffic as illicit substances move from out-of-state hubs into high demand areas of West Virginia. Masih said that the system provides “spike alerts” when overdoses on the most dangerous substances rise quickly and dramatically. Research shows that “spikes” follow the established traffic patterns of drug sales.
He explained that “child abuse is unfortunately part of the acknowledged ripple effects” of drug abuse and how it changes a family, but the damage done to children can be reversed. Masih said that victims of abuse need caring adults who both teach and model values. Most importantly, he shared that the stigma attached to drug addiction and related behaviors can inhibit addicts, especially children, from seeking help.
Children need to hear that “your experience doesn’t define you. They need to hear that said out loud along with positive support and empathy.” Masih shared that West Virginia performs much better than most states in terms of the stigmatization of drug addiction and recovery. Part of this comes from the fact that many, if not most, families in the state have experienced a drug related tragedy.
He pointed out that Pendleton County based Future Generations University’s masters programs in drug treatment are unique in the state and possibly the nation. Masih praised Pendleton County as a whole for its practical approach in combating the drug crisis.
Eastern Action, representing six area counties, also shared its mission. One key issue in social services often lies in the “silo” effect of agencies working individually without much communication. Eastern Action serves as the “hub” for such organizations in the region. As their representative explained, “most folks call us, say what they need, and we get contact information out to them.” This helps many in need save tremendous amounts of time and frustration seeking needed services.
Several other agencies participated. T. J. Dawson represented the On Track coalition that has focused efforts on acquiring and eliminating unused addictive prescription drugs, partnering with the Pendleton County Sheriff’s Department, among other agencies. Tanya Wright, a representative from the WIC program, was on hand to explain the core mission of providing foods essential in nutrition for mothers and children. A recently added program sets aside part of the monthly allowance to purchase fresh produce that is a vital part of a healthy diet.
Health insurance provider, The Health Plan, also came to tout its incentive based programs to reward healthy choices with gift cards.
Perhaps the best news of the day came from Dawson from On Track. He reported that opioid use in the region has started to decline. Although that represents a key win on this field of battle, which should have a positive effect on child abuse and other issues, all present would agree that winning the war will take more hard work and support from the community.