Children deserve to live safely in their homes, in their communities. Each year we recognize April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month to spotlight the importance of supporting communities and families working together to help families thrive and prevent child maltreatment. Today, however, too many Missouri children enter the child welfare system and leave their families and communities for reasons unrelated to harm or neglect, but due to misdirected responses to family and community hardship.
This flawed approach harms everyone. Missouri experienced a 49% increase in the number of children in foster care between 2009 and 2022, and though we have recently experienced a modest decrease, children continue to come into foster care at a rate twice the national average, per capita. So, what can we do to support families staying safely together in their communities?
We must commit to:
- parent, youth, and community voice,
- legal advocacy,
- community-based family-strengthening prevention and support, and
- relational health to improve parent, family and caregiver engagement.
Family and youth voice means that families and youth are heard and that their input is sought and included in decisions that affect their lives.
A significant body of research identifies legal representation as key to helping families avoid unnecessary contact with the child welfare system and expediting positive outcomes for families with children in foster care.
Family strengthening prevention and support include services that address conditions of chronic poverty, housing and food insecurity, lack of essential supports, and isolation.
Relational health, in general terms, involves an individual’s sense of connection and belonging to other loving and caring people in their lives. Bolstering these connections and equipping parents and caregivers with the knowledge and skills to access resources to help their children must be viewed as an essential component of healthcare.
Investing in these critical areas will reduce harm to children, support family stability, and strengthen communities. We can do better by Missouri children and families, and we cannot afford to wait any longer.