BUCKHANNON – While the past year has been a trying time for all, it’s been especially challenging for parents, guardians and their children.
Dealing with pandemic-related difficulties while caring for children can create extra stress – and that’s why all community members should try to support families of all shapes and sizes, Lori Ulderich Harvey, executive director of the Upshur County Family Resource Network, told the Upshur County Commission at a recent meeting.
At their March 25 meeting, the commission approved a proclamation declaring April National Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month, and Buckhannon City Council is set to do the same on Tuesday, April 6.
“Our children have probably suffered more than we really think during the past year with a pandemic,” Harvey said. “We haven’t had them in the schools, we haven’t had parents have great [support networks] or be able to just call a friend and say, ‘Come over, can you just have coffee with me because my child kept me up all night last night.’ We’ve been kind of isolated.”
Harvey said it’s likely the pandemic eroded several of the five factors considered protective against child abuse – social connection; concrete support in times of need; knowledge or parenting and child development; parental resilience; and social and emotional competence of children.
Locally, we need to bolster those factors now, Harvey said.
“All that we need to ramp that up now because we’re seeing our kids come back, so if you see something, say something, and plus we need to support our parents more than we ever have had to,” she said. “I know just being at home and working from March to October last, that my daughter and I got to know each other really well.”
“Research links health child development to effective parenting, so most parents can make it through difficult times, but they do need help,” Harvey added.
This June, the Upshur FRN plans to roll out a program that furnishes support to older adults who are taking care of their grandchildren or great-grandchildren. The Healthy Grandfamilies program is tentatively scheduled to take place on Tuesday evenings beginning in June at a pavilion in the Upshur County Recreational Park.
Healthy Grandfamilies is a free initiative led by West Virginia State University to supply information and resources to grandparents who are raising at least one grandchild, according to its website, and the program is funded in part by the West Virginia State Legislature.
“Thankfully, with the very gracious donation of the pavilion at the county park behind the high school, this June to August – the dates are kind of pending because there’s a couple holidays in there – on Tuesdays, we’re going to have our first Healthy Grandfamilies group. It’s going to be a little bit smaller,” Harvey said.
The group’s intended purpose is not to police custody or other child-related issues, but to teach participants valuable information, Harvey said.
“If you’re not familiar with Healthy Grandfamilies, we’re not there to check on the grandparents that have their grandchildren. We’re not there to see if they have any kind of social services or if they even have legal custody,” she said. “We’re trying to get that across because we want people to come and actually learn and grow from this experience and become a group that gets used to each other because it’s a 10-week program.”
Childcare, food and information on a variety of topics will be provided.
“We have every [topic] from navigating the legal system to navigating the school system to substance abuse to nutrition,” Harvey said, noting that grandparents may need help identifying signs of trouble, such as evidence that their grandchild or grandchildren are partaking in activities that pose risks to their health.
Harvey said grandparents likely would not be able to identify certain objects, such as vaping devices, e-cigarettes and liquid-filled cartridges that are “smoked” via those devices.
“So, it’s little things like that that this program will help with because we have grandparents, and even great-grandparents, in their 80s raising their grandchildren – and they’re still looking for the cigarette pack or they’re still looking for weed in the bag, things like that,” Harvey said. “This gets them more updated information, but it also gives them information to get help for their family if they’re going through something.”
“It’s a great program, it’s not informal but it’s not really formal – it’s more like you sit down and you have a conversation with people. We have childcare, and we have food,” she said.
Harvey read aloud the proclamation declaring April Child Abuse and Prevention Month throughout Upshur County. The document noted that child abuse and neglect “is a symptom of a larger problem – the lack of resources and support for families in the community.”
“The majority of child abuse cases stem from situations and conditions that are preventable in engaged and supportive communities, which I really think overall, we are pretty engaged and supportive, and we are trying to take proactive steps with programs like the Healthy Grandfamiles,” Harvey said.
Child abuse and neglect can be reduced by ensuring families have the support and resources they need to raise their children, and several ways everyone can help include volunteering, making donations and advocating for family-friendly policies and programs.
The commission unanimously approved the proclamation, which asks all “citizens, community agencies, faith groups, medical facilities and businesses to increase their participation in our efforts to support families, thereby preventing child abuse and strengthening the communities in which we live.”
To see a list of resources compiled by the FRN, click here.