Social Services Today

Partnerships help DSS prevent child abuse, neglect
Apr. 12, 2014 @ 11:47 AM

Over the next six months, we will be using this column to do a monthly series highlighting the Six Principles of Partnership which guide the work of DSS.  The sixth principle -- "Partnership is a process'' is key to shaping our interactions, collaborations and partnerships.

In our training materials about the Six Principles, we learn that "Partnership is a process" recognizes that "each of the principles is part of a greater whole. While each has merit on its own, all are necessary for partnership. Each principle supports and strengthens the others. In addition, this principle acknowledges that putting the principles into practice consistently is hard. Acceptance of the principles is not enough; it requires intention and attention to practice the principles."

We are committed to the process of partnership because we know that it is key to preventing child abuse. We can't do this job alone.  But through our key partnerships with diverse individuals and agencies, we increase the awareness, education and opportunities in which members of our community can engage to support children who have been mistreated. 

We have our work cut out for us.  In fiscal year 2013, 3,483 children were referred in Durham County for child abuse, neglect and dependency;  187 of these cases were substantiated for abuse.  The estimated annual cost of child abuse and neglect for North Carolina is $2,057,467,000.  This is not acceptable!

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, an ideal time for us to highlight how the Durham Department of Social Services partners with the community to create change.  Recognizing that child maltreatment can be eradicated by effective child abuse prevention strategies, the 2014 National Child Abuse theme is “Look, Listen, Respond."  As the county's proclamation declaring April National Child Abuse Prevention month notes, the majority of child abuse and neglect cases stem from situations and conditions that are preventable with the help of an engaged and supportive community such as partnerships among citizens, health care providers, civic organizations, law enforcement and the business community.

Our partnerships enable us to minimize the number of children having to come into our care because of the partnerships and preventative services are right up front.  We engage in a collaborative process with our partners in which we sit around the table and agree to disagree in order to find common ground.  Because in the end, our commitment is to the children in Durham County and ensuring that their well-being needs are met.

Just one key partnership we have is with Exchange Family Center whose mission is to strengthen area families and prevent child abuse and neglect through family support, education and counseling.   Laura Wagenknecht, the executive director of Exchange Family Center, says, "DSS is committed to making sure that children and families are safe. They have a very strong vision of a healthy community and they partner with whoever is going to make that a reality."  She appreciates that she can call me directly and know that I am open to dialogue on issues concerning family well-being and child safety.

Wagenknecht  also says, "Imagine DSS no longer existed. You would have hundreds and thousands of children at risk, if not being abused or neglected. If Exchange Family Center didn't exist, you would have recidivism rates of people going back into the system (because they hadn't learned the tools and skills to care for their children safely.) That's what is great about this partnership -- we each do our part to help families and children."

I invite each of you to commit to the process of partnership in the service of the young people in our community.  You too can be an important component in our work to prevent child maltreatment and strengthen the community in which we live.

Michael Becketts is director of the Durham County Department of Social Services. His column appears in The Durham Herald monthly.