Prevention Workers Partner with Families Early to Prevent Abuse & Neglect
Over 600 cases of child neglect and 82 cases of child abuse and neglect were confirmed in Buncombe County in 2018. While there is no specific cause for child abuse and neglect, research shows that offering supports such as parenting classes, connection to safe childcare, or access to mental health services can improve the protective factors and capacity of families. Addressing these needs early on can reduce rates of child abuse in a community. As the old adage goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
The Buncombe County Health and Human Services Prevention Specialists are experts in this area of assessment and connection. “We meet families all the time with a range of challenges and our role is to provide them with helpful community resources that address their unique needs and support them as they engage with those resources,” says Jessica Davis, Prevention Specialist with BCHHS.
Due to the voluntary nature of prevention work, sometimes it can be tough to accept help if it feels punitive or invasive, therefore, trust is critical to prevention work, according to Heather Sellers, Prevention Services Supervisor. “Prevention services are considered optional, giving clients the ability to choose to accept services or not. This has actually worked in our favor because clients understand that they have control from the very beginning. We can accomplish a lot when this level of trust is built between social worker and family.”
Heidi Hill-Gardner, Prevention Specialist with BCHHS, agrees that giving clients the autonomy to step into a leadership role and make their own decisions, without a mandate, has made the prevention program more successful. Heidi says, “It is really rewarding to partner with families as they self-assess their family’s needs, create goals around those needs and then to be able to connect them the right kind of resources. When they own and achieve the goals for their family that makes them safer or stronger in some way, they have a high level of investment in following through and making it happen.”
Between the three Prevention Services Workers, there is a combined 43 years of experience working for BCHHS in the social work field. “Working in Prevention Services for so many years has given us the chance to develop a deep understanding of community resources and how to navigate those systems while providing consistency for our families,” says Jessica.
Often times, this team serves as first responders to reports that might not meet the case definition of abuse or neglect. Sometimes it is a matter of checking in and putting a face with a name just in case folks need someone to connect with, making them the face of DSS in many ways. “Creating a support network for our clients ultimately starts with us. The relationships that we build in and outside of HHS, act as a two way referral system for our clients that increases the likelihood that they will succeed at meeting their goals,” says Heidi.
If you suspect abuse or neglect of a child, please call to report your concerns. Prevention Services can be reached at (828) 250-5500. They can help families address safety concerns and connect them to many resources that can address their unique needs.