Giving Thought: Preventing child abuse through collaboration and education

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought

Parenting is hard. The persistent, compounding stressors of child care, schoolwork, bills and employment affect all families regardless of income or immigration status. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, these stressors have reached an unsettling height for many in the greater Roaring Fork Valley.

When families experience consistent, severe levels of anxiety, instances of child abuse and neglect become much more common. Thankfully, organizations like Family Visitor Programs (FVP) are here to help.

This April, we want to shine a light on the work FVP is doing in our community to prevent child abuse and neglect in recognition of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Since 1983, FVP has been committed to child abuse prevention in the Aspen to Parachute region. FVP works closely with expecting parents and families to provide access to resources, family support and an educational focus on child health and development.

“Research has found that many children were being abused because of a lack of parental knowledge about normal child development,” said FVPs Executive Director Sandy Swanson. “Parents who have inaccurate expectations of their child’s development may respond angrily to their child’s inability to do something, such as potty train, when their baby is not developmentally ready. This lack of understanding can oftentimes lead parents to punish their child for something that they are not ready to do.”

In FVP’s early days, the concept of education as prevention was new to industry professionals. As FVP’s reputation grew, it formed connections with organizations like The Kempe Center and with professionals who were doing similar work throughout the state. These partnerships helped expand FVP’s services to include a variety of inclusive, evidence-based programs.

Today, FVP’s four core programs are research-driven, client-centered, needs-based and available to anyone in the greater Roaring Fork Valley at no cost. The programs — Bright by Three, Partners for a Healthy Baby, Nurse Family Partnership and Healthy Families Aspen to Parachute — offer at-home visits (with frequency based on need) where families and visitors collaborate to determine what the family needs for their child to succeed. Visiting professionals provide support, educational resources and other necessary supplies like wipes and diapers.

“By meeting families wherever they are — at home, in their office, or elsewhere — and providing them with whatever they need, our team helps alleviate the stress of childbirth and raising a baby in a meaningful way,” Swanson said.

When the pandemic hit Colorado, demand for direct support services like those provided by FVP increased. Factors like job loss and illness brought intense, unexpected hardship to the families in our community, and parents needed support. In addition to health and development support, FVP’s clients expressed a need for assistance with finding food, rental assistance and legal services. The agency shifted its approach to meet the immediate needs of families facing the crisis.

“We’re a client-centered organization so when our clients expressed different needs, we adapted,” Swanson said.

As an organization committed to child abuse prevention, FVP provides parents whatever assistance necessary so they can, in turn, provide for their families. Though this support looked different, FVP was still fulfilling its mission to prevent child abuse by providing connection to essential community services to alleviate stress for new families.

As FVP staff has adjusted to this new normal, Swanson noticed something hopeful.

“Our staff and families are facing tremendous levels of stress, but there is also an incredible amount of resilience,” she said. “Many of our families have pretty monumental health and home bills piling up, but they remain calm and optimistic.”

FVP also has seen an increase in the number of families reaching out to FVP for support services. Families who were hesitant enroll in a program before the pandemic are calling the agency for help as the pandemic lingers and stress continues to mount.

“The entire community is going to continue to need help until recovery happens. It will take meaningful collaboration from organizations to solve the problems that our families face, but I’m optimistic. If we’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s how much we need each other,” Swanson said.

Her words feel particularly poignant as we look to the future. Though there may be a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, the hardship that families in the greater Roaring Fork Valley face will remain long after vaccines are distributed. FVP will continue to respond to this need by providing resources, education and immediate assistance.

During Child Abuse Prevention Month, we want to remind you how important it is to support the work of organizations like FVP. Every day, Swanson and her staff work with compassion and diligence to improve the lives of children and families in our community. Their work contributes to making the greater Roaring Fork Valley a place where every family can thrive.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.


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