By Alexandra Fradelizio | m/Oppenheim.Org Writer
According to 2017 statistics released by the Children’s Bureau of the US Department of Health and Human Services, Kentucky has the highest rates of child abuse in the country, doubling the national average. Even more alarming, the majority of child injuries and deaths in the state occur to those under the age of 3. Located in the heart of Kentucky, the Family & Children’s Place has developed a unique approach by extending their outreach beyond solely stopping abuse and treating impacted youth.
“We’re really here to prevent child abuse from ever happening in the first place,” says President & CEO Pam Darnall.
The Louisville-based organization serves between 5,000 and 6,000 individuals each year throughout 10 counties in Kentucky and 5 in southern Indiana, which ranks second in nationwide rates of child abuse. Originally founded as the Family Place in 1883, the organization initially assisted children living in poverty by providing them with safe and stable homes. In 2008, the Family Place merged with another local organization, Families and Children First, to become the Family & Children’s Place. Throughout its extensive history, Family & Children’s Place has continuously changed its services to best reflect the needs of families in their community.
Beginning in the 1990s, Louisville and surrounding areas saw a drastic increase in child abuse and neglect. The organization’s response to this startling trend was the Health Access Nurturing Development Services (HANDS), a preventative service that helps new parents “learn how to raise their babies in a safe and healthy way,” says Darnall. Staff workers visit new parents’ homes to not only identify if living conditions are child-safe but to also inform them on the many stresses that accompany parenthood. The main goal is to prevent injuries or deaths to infants with staff often visiting the homes until the child turns 2 years old.
As a result of the organization’s work, HANDS has been deemed an “evidence-based” proven method to reduce rates of child abuse, explains Darnall. Based on research conducted by the federal government, quality home visits with pregnant mothers and new parents prevent infant trauma and abuse. As a result, the program is now employed across the state to ensure Kentucky families are raising thriving children.
Equally important, the organization also offers an array of programs to guide youth through physical and emotional harm, especially those who faced sexual abuse and trafficking. Every person in the state of Kentucky is mandated to report any suspected incident of child abuse or mistreatment, and the Family & Children’s Place follows a strict protocol when informed about a potentially unsafe situation. Once a call is logged at Child Protective Services, staff at the Family & Children’s Place are notified and schedule a time to have the child visit the center. The Crimes Against Children police unit is co-located at the organization’s Louisville center, and pediatricians and doctors are on staff to provide mental health services upon the child’s arrival. All assessments, screenings, and interviews conducted with the child are recorded and kept indefinitely in the event of any future legal proceedings.
To prevent further violence and abuse, especially in low income neighborhoods throughout Kentucky, the Family & Children’s Place offers an array of services to middle school children. The preteens learn about the dangers of drug use and alcohol dependency, allowing them to develop key social and emotional skills that mold them into becoming healthy young adults.
“There really is this wonderful continuum of care,” states Darnall of the organization’s extensive programs.
In order to provide more support to youth in Kentucky and Indiana communities, the Family & Children’s Place collaborates with other organizations “to be the best stewards of the resources that people invest in and the work that we do” explains Darnall. The organization often partners with smaller nonprofits to facilitate their administrative tasks, leaving them more time to focus on accomplishing their goals.
Darnall, who holds a background in psychology, previously worked as a Child Protective Services worker where she grew passionate about helping children in crisis. As a counselor, she employed non-judgemental tactics to interview abusive adults and determine the different factors that contribute to childhood trauma. In many cases, Darnall found that abuse is both cyclical and generational, causing youth to “learn what they live” and exhibit violent tendencies when they grow to have children themselves.
“We have to take and make the effort to understand how that could have happened in order for us to protect kids in the future,” she says of her experiences working with both abusive parents and neglected children.
In order to reverse Kentucky’s reputation and create loving, non-violent families throughout the state, the Family & Children’s Place has much more to accomplish. The organization continues to alter services based on the needs of children and is poised to increase the HANDS program within the upcoming years. While treating those who have been abused remains a top priority, Darnall remains optimistic the Family & Children’s Place can prevent violence in communities, one family at a time.
“We help those families understand what they can do in order to change the trajectory of their life so that they and their kids can be happy and healthy.”