From creating a bond between parent and child, to promoting healthy child development with the help of the community, new campaigns from local and state child welfare agencies focus on stopping child abuse before it starts.
In recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month, the Florida Department of Children and Families and the Children's Network of Southwest Florida have announced a mix of campaigns this month aimed at preventing child abuse.
There are currently about 1,400 children in the five-county system that includes Lee County, according to Aimee McLaughlin, spokeswoman for the Children's Network. The network is the region's lead care agency for DCF.
"Most of the cases we see are neglect and not abuse," she said.
Neglect comes in many forms, from inadequate parental supervision or leaving children home alone, to not having enough food in the house.
"Around 75 percent are related to substance abuse," McLaughlin said.
Child Abuse Prevention Resource Fair
April 17 from 1 to 4 p.m.
Joseph P. D'Alessandro Office Complex, at 2295 Victoria Ave., Fort Myers
Provide public with information and providers network
On April 1, the network launched a five-county awareness campaign called "Get Closer to Their Child." A multi-media effort, the campaign involves the use of a billboard in each county, along with TV commercials and radio ads.
It focuses on raising public awareness of the local resources available to families through the network's hotline at (800) 89-FAMILY (326459).
"To let families out in the community know there are community agencies out there that can help," she said.
By calling the hotline, families can reach a specialist who will direct them to the appropriate place where they can receive assistance. Families can also get a postcard sent to them covering "50 Ways to Get Closer to Your Kids."
"The materials are very relevant to all families," McLaughlin said.
The hope is families that communicate can fix whatever problems arise.
"So that it doesn't have to come to child abuse," she said.
The regional campaign also focuses on the other side of the coin.
"There's ways for people to get involved," McLaughlin said.
For Child Abuse Prevention Month, DCF is promoting its own campaign, "Pinwheels for Prevention," which is part of a national movement.
"The campaign focuses on community activities," spokeswoman Terri Durdaller said. "Community activities and public policies that help prioritize healthy development right from the start."
She explained that children learn from infancy to age 5.
"That's the most critical part of their development process," Durdaller said. "If we could work on strengthening families, especially those who have kids in that age group, then we could prevent things from happening in the future."
"As a community, we all have a responsibility to help those families that have a higher risk," she added.
Families with a higher risk of child abuse include young parents, as well as those families where substance abuse or domestic violence are present.
"Kids having kids - those who abuse prescription drugs - those who have been in domestic disputes with family members," Durdaller said. "Those are all types of families at higher risk. Those parents are most as risk."
The idea is that communities help them raise school-ready children.
"Then, most times, these families will never have involvement in the child welfare system," she said.
About four months ago, DCF launched Partners for Promise. In April, the agency plans to make a push to bring people together on the initiative.
"It's going to help strengthen the communities by bringing together businesses, governments, non-profits and faith-based organizations," Durdaller said. "It's just a piece of how we can connect everyone."
Currently, about 1,000 "partners" have signed up statewide. The effort partners those who need help, with those who can provide assistance.
"There's a lot of stressors in people's lives," she said. "If we have communities that step up and take away those stressors, they (the parents) can focus on strengthening their family."
For example, a dentist could offer his services to a child whose bad teeth have her in pain, keeping her from screaming and easing that stressor on a parent. A group could provide a stable home to family living in their vehicle.
"If we can really reach out to these businesses and other agencies, we can solve more of these problems," she said. "Government can't do it alone."
According to Durdaller, there are about 500 investigations initiated per month that stem from a call received.
"It is all child abuse related," she said. "Those are the calls that meet criteria from the child abuse hotline."
Of the couple hundred, about 15 percent are verified as abuse. Out of all of the reports in Florida, approximately 3.4 percent come from Lee County.
McLaughlin reported that there are more than 1,000 calls made to DCF's child abuse hotline per month on average from Southwest Florida.