BLUE EARTH - Children First of Faribault County has been working to prevent child abuse for years. Now the organization has received an award from Prevent Child Abuse Minnesota.
It is to "recognize our efforts and give us a boost," said Ann Huntley, social worker at Blue Earth Area High School, who works with the group.
Huntley addressed a gathering of Children First members and collaborative organizations Friday morning. Included in the group of about 20 people were members of law enforcement, school personnel, social services and others who work with children.
HELPING?KIDS?— Ann Huntley, left, of Children First, discusses programs and events the group has been involved with over the years at a gathering Friday. At right is Amy Becker, social services supervisor for Martin and Faribault counties.
Huntley recalled the events and programs the group has supported. Since April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, most of the events take place then.
"Making this list, for me, was [realizing] we have done a lot," she said.
"Working in the field, you get discouraged," she said, "but knowing we're doing these preventative efforts brings you back. You can't fix everything, but you can keep persevering."
A few of the things on Huntley's list were radio and cable TV spots; speakers on Internet safety; car seats for Human Services and law enforcement for transporting kids; teddy bears for law enforcement to distribute; creating a DVD with current statistics in Faribault County; and advocating for the Five Protective Factors:
1. Children's social and emotional development.
2. Knowledge of parenting and of child and youth development.
3. Parental resilience and recognizing signs of stress.
4. Social connections. Parents with family, friends and neighbors have better support in times of need.
5. Concrete supports for finances, housing and other basic needs.
The group believes in its mission, but is wondering about the future.
Children First of Faribault County was funded by a $5,000 grant, but because of budget cuts, the grant ended, Huntley said.
"It's probably our second year with no funding," said Huntley, adding there was just a small amount left. "Without money now, what do we do?"
Money is only part of the problem; they also need more people to help.
"Part of Children First's goal is to involve more of the community, but it's been hard, " Huntley said. "We're always looking for community people to be in our group."
Anyone interested in helping may contact Huntley at her e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or call Blue Earth Area High School.
The group has faced an uphill struggle before.
Children First in Faribault County began in 1996. After faltering for a few years, it was re-established in 2007, thanks in part to Bob Toland, Winnebago's chief of police.
"I thought this was a really good thing to get fixed back up in our county," he said. "I convinced Ann Huntley to take the chair. I told her I'd be her vice chair the first year. Ann and the school social workers took the lead in a lot of those projects."
Toland knows the impact child abuse can have. He entered full-time police work in the mid-1980s.
"I got thrown right into child protection work," he said.
Years ago, people kept their children away from a person who was known to have deviant proclivities, but "now, it gets reported," Toland said.
Families back then usually had two parents, with mom staying home and watching the kids. Families tended to be larger and, by the time young adults had children of their own, they'd looked after younger siblings or nephews and nieces.
"Looking at single-parent families and young parents, our risk levels go up," Toland said. "It takes so much time of the parent to make enough income to survive and less time parenting the child. It's less likely they have grown up with the ability to parent without needing help."
Toland is not seeing a lot of criminal issues, but situations in which young parents need assistance in developing parenting skills, like "picking up nasty things, and keeping floors clean; a host of things."
He has a simple solution.
"There needs to be more education; people need to understand," he said.
That's where Children First comes in.
A number of the things Children First does involves kids in activities, such as an art contest, with the winner's design displayed on a billboard.
"It's a fun project," Toland said. "You get to see your billboard up there, and so did the other kids."
Doing these activities is so important because they reach kids.
"We try to involve the kids, educate the kids about who they can talk to if they have problems," Toland said. "When they grow up, maybe we can slow down the problem."