Healthy Families fights child abuse

Published 7:56 pm Tuesday, March 22, 2016

They say that it takes a village to raise a child. Sometimes, though, it takes a village to save a child.

That’s why multiple agencies and organizations in Suffolk are coming together in April, which is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, to spread the word about local resources available to prevent child abuse and neglect.

Healthy Families, a program funded by the Western Tidewater Health District and the Obici Healthcare Foundation, is asking everyone in the community to wear blue on April 4 to show support for child abuse prevention, said Beverly McQuarry, supervisor of Healthy Families Suffolk/Isle of Wight.

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The Suffolk City Council is expected to sign a proclamation recognizing April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month on April 6, said Angela Myrick, a family services supervisor the Suffolk Department of Social Services. In early April, Social Services will have a basket of free blue silicone bracelets promoting child abuse prevention at both its office and Sentara Obici Hospital.

Healthy Families and Social Services have teamed up to produce packets of information that include statistics about child abuse and neglect, suggestions to alleviate stress that comes with a newborn or toddler, a list of good parenting skills, suggested coping skills for working with older children, and referrals and explanations of what to do if you suspect a child is being abused or neglected.

Throughout April, these packets will be free at Social Services, the Health Department, Sentara Obici Hospital and local pediatricians’ offices, McQuarry said.

The organizations also will have a mobile blue pinwheel garden in recognition of child abuse prevention that will be transported to city buildings, the courthouse, and libraries during April to help boost awareness, she said.

“Getting families off to a healthy start is a joint venture,” said Phyllis Stoneburner, vice president of Sentara Obici Hospital. At Obici, it often begins long before the baby enters the world.

Obici has high-risk health navigators who use assessment tools to identify women who may need extra help during and after their pregnancies, said Stoneburner. Assessment tools can evaluate socio-economic circumstances, emotional support availability, the amount of financial support available and available family network for the mother, she said.

One program available through Obici includes First Steps, a team of volunteers and nurses that provides free parenting education, referrals and other support to new parents for the first few months of a baby’s life.

A second free program, Healthy Families Suffolk/Isle of Wight, works with parents from birth through age 5, McQuarry said. There are no income guidelines or other qualifying factors, she said.

“We realize that circumstances and backgrounds are different for every family struggling to make ends meet,” McQuarry said. “We are here to help new parents by taking some of the stress out of parenthood. We link new parents to other child care resources, educate them on what to expect … and help new moms get organized.”

Healthy Families’ staff will make weekly visits when the babies are infants; gradually, the visits become less frequent as the child gets older, McQuarry said.

Social Services also is available, both as a resource to help struggling parents and to assist with investigating reports of suspected child abuse and neglect, Myrick said.

“All of us work together to break a cycle,” said Marli Laudun, clinical nurse supervisor with the Western Tidewater Health District. “A lot of abuse is learned and if you grew up in a home with abuse, we want to break cycles and teach people different ways to cope with life’s stressors.”

A state hotline to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect to the Virginia Department of Social Services can be reached at 1-800-552-7096.