In August, the Richmond Times Dispatch published the editorial below, written as a call to action for our community as children start returning to school this fall. Together, we can serve families, support our schools, and stop child abuse.
Across our community, parents and caregivers are struggling to balance the stress of daily life alongside caring for their children. Whether it is working multiple jobs to put food on the table, grappling with a substance use disorder, handling a major financial setback or keeping mental health issues at bay, balancing these pressures with parenting at times can be very difficult. Going back to school is an added challenge. Most children have returned to in-person classrooms, but the effects of the pandemic continue to linger within our schools. Parents are juggling COVID-19 exposures and absences, lagging academic progress and changing teacher expectations. Sadly, stress in its many forms can be a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect. At Henrico CASA, we have seen this time and time again with the children and families we serve. Stress is a natural byproduct of parenthood, but when combined with anxiety over things like financials, health or relationships, it can become too much for one person to handle. Let me be clear: There is no excuse for abuse or neglect. However, by understanding and acknowledging that these underlying issues can cause abuse and neglect, our community can better prevent it and help families safely stay together. After all, we know the vast majority of parents love their children and want the best for them. So maybe you are wondering: What can you do to help? As a community, we can come together to support our own family members, friends and neighbors in reducing the stresses of parenthood. While supporting families, we also indirectly are supporting our school system, allowing teachers and administrators to focus on what they do best — educating. Here are a few ideas to get you started. They might seem small, but they undoubtedly have a major impact. Share your time Offer child care or school carpool help to support a family. Better yet, use that time to make sure children have done their homework. These simple acts can take an immense amount of stress off the backs of caretakers. Donate to meet needs Donate items to help relieve a strained family. School-related needs can be especially helpful like clothes, backpacks and school supplies. By providing these items, you can help relieve the anxiety caregivers might have about where they will find the money for these added expenses. You’ll also help prevent teachers from having to purchase extra supplies. Provide a meal Offer to cook or buy a meal. Many children have access to free meals while attending school. However, families experiencing some type of food insecurity still need to cover meals for dinners, weekends and school breaks. Donating a meal can truly help caregivers who are struggling to fill their pantries. And children learn better when not distracted by hunger or other unmet needs. Give conversation Offering caregivers an opportunity to reduce their own stress by talking out their feelings is invaluable. Listen and empathize. Share your experiences with them, but also share resources you have found to be helpful for parenting and navigating life. Let them know they can turn to you as someone with shared experience during moments of uncertainty or anxiety. These small acts of kindness add up. We never fully know what a family might be facing behind closed doors. Even just one of these acts could mean the world to a caregiver who is feeling alone and unsupported in raising their child. As friends and neighbors, we should work to build support systems around families. They are the foundation for safe children, healthy homes and a thriving community. Will you join me in showing families that we are rooting for them? We are on their side, willing and ready to provide support. Jeannine Panzera is executive director of Henrico CASA, a nonprofit organization that recruits, trains and supervises volunteers who advocate for children experiencing abuse and neglect. To learn more about the work of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), visit: