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Preventing Child Abuse, Neglect in WV

June 8, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - National children's advocates, meeting in West Virginia this week, want to build a movement to expand on current successes in preventing child abuse and neglect. They're seeing good results they hope could spark a nationwide movement.

Statistics show declines in neglect and abuse cases in West Virginia and other states, says Bryan Specht, a member of the national board of directors of Prevent Child Abuse America. The focus often is on tragic things that happen to children, he says, but that isn't the whole story.

"There are things that can be done to prevent it from ever occurring in the first place. Some people will tell us that we'll never eliminate every case of abuse, but what a great difference we could make in the pursuit of that."

Several members of Specht's organization are in Charleston this week to attend Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia's first Leadership Institute. According to the West Virginia group, the gathering is the largest event of its kind they've ever held.

Ben Tanzer, the organization's director of strategic communications, says it's important to note that people want to be good parents but sometimes get into crisis situations, where they feel desperate and isolated.

"No one wakes up and says, 'Today's the day I beat my kid.' They wake up and everything starts falling apart."

It helps to remember how stressful raising children can be, says Tanzer. Communities can provide support for families in crisis, he says, and sometimes all it takes is reminding them of things they already know.

"When my baby's crying, it means they're probably hungry or tired, or need their diaper changed. Your kid's not crying because they're trying to torture you."

America spends $104 billion a year on child abuse and neglect cases, Specht says, adding that the nation could save that money by continuing to prevent many of these cases - and doing so would be beneficial in other ways as well.

"The science is really saying to us, 'This is the right thing to do, for the capacity of our children to learn, for our economy - the kind of society that we could live in, if we provided that healthy opportunity to every child.'"

PCA WV's Leadership Institute continues Wednesday at the Charleston Marriott.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV