A regular feature of The Catholic New World, The InterVIEW is an in-depth conversation with a person whose words, actions or ideas affect today's Catholic. It may be affirming of faith or confrontational. But it will always be stimulating.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention month and the Archdiocese of Chicago was very involved in promoting this month. Womazetta Jones, director of the archdiocese’s Safe Environment Office, spoke with the Catholic New World about the issue of child abuse.
Catholic New World: National Child Abuse Prevention month is often viewed as a way to focus just on prevention. You have a broader view of its meaning. Would you explain that?
Womazetta Jones: I began my career in child protection in 1991 at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, so I have been fortunate enough to actively participate in the April campaign for 16 years. The significance of this month is tremendous.
What is child abuse and neglect?
Physical abuse: an injury to a child that is not an accident: may include beating, burning, biting, kicking, cutting, shaking or punching a child.
Emotional abuse: maltreatment of a child that may involve criticizing, insulting, yelling, swearing, manipulating, rejecting or withholding love.
Sexual abuse: any sexual contact with a child, including exhibitionism, photographs or films, pornography, prostitution, rape or fondling. Neglect: failure to provide for a child’s basic physical, emotional, medical or educational needs.
Who abuses children?
Most often the abuser is someone
the child knows, such as a parent,
relative, neighbor or friend of the
Many of us work daily to prevent child maltreatment. It is our calling, our mission, our ministry, and to have a month focused on emphasizing the seriousness of this problem and the prevention resources available is a huge help.
Let’s think about this for a minute. In 1972, Prevent Child Abuse America was created by a group of professionals concerned with the growing prevalence of child abuse in this country. The focus then and now of Prevent Child Abuse America, was to build awareness and provide education in order to prevent abuse and neglect. In 1972, most states did not even have laws regarding child maltreatment yet most states had laws regarding the protection of livestock and animals.
Illinois did not pass the Abused Neglect Child Reporting Act until 1975 so it was not until then that Illinois identified what was abuse and neglect and established a state agency to receive reports of child maltreatment, investigate those reports, ensure the safety of children and provide services to families.
The primary focus of Child Abuse Prevention month is to raise awareness and promote specific ways to eliminate child abuse. However, the April campaign also strives to: eliminate all forms of child maltreatment, such as neglect, child trafficking and incidents of babies being shaken; offer parents and caregivers assistance, guidance and support by linking families to services and opportunities; emphasize the importance of establishing stable family units; educate parents about the short and longterm ramifications of exposing children to domestic violence and substance/alcohol abuse.
CNW: Your office provides many resources for parishes on its Web site www.childrenmatternetwork.org. What is the archdiocese doing to mark this month?
Jones: The Office for the Protection of Children and Youth (OPCY) has been doing a tremendous amount to highlight this campaign. We began by establishing partnerships with Prevent Child Abuse America, Prevent Child Abuse Illinois, Child Advocacy Centers of Illinois and of course have a joint protocol with DCFS. Last year Prevent Child Abuse Illinois asked me to be a member of their statewide and regional committee for the April 2008 campaign. It was a tremendous honor and, as a direct result of this collaboration, the Archdiocese of Chicago was a part of the March launch at the James R. Thompson Center.
OPCY’s newsletter, “On- Going for Kids,” began promoting Child Abuse Prevention month in its January issue with articles written by our archdiocesan chancellor, the director of education and public relations of Prevent Child Abuse Illinois and the director of Child Advocacy Centers of Illinois. Our Web site, Children Matter Network, has dedicated the focus of the April site to materials and liturgy aids created for the campaign by Prevent Child Abuse Illinois, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Archdiocese of Chicago. All of our school principals and pastors have been asked to download the materials and liturgy aids for use in their particular ministry with children- pastoral, parental and educational.
The Children Matter Network was established to promote the safety and well-being of children so our mission continues beyond the April campaign. Every month we provide new information and resources for parents, caretakers and educators. The archdiocesan Web site boldly highlights that April is Child Abuse Prevention month and refers all to Children Matter Network. So much is going on here at the archdiocese to highlight this month: prayer services, mandated reporter training, Virtus training and ongoing education.
CNW: Who else is involved in this effort and what are some of the things they are doing?
Jones: Here in Illinois, all child welfare agencies, child advocacy centers, schools, libraries, hospitals, law enforcement agencies, local and state government agencies and many religious organizations participate in this nationwide campaign. Prevent Child Abuse Illinois, in partnership with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, creates and disseminates a community packet and helps to schedule a multitude of community activities with community partners.
During the month of April the large-scale partnership is amazing to witness. In almost every community you will find free workshops and seminars year round but the intensity level increases in April. Communities are flooded with literature and conferences and outreach. The concentrated effort to help educate and provide services for everyone continues beyond April but the unity is just more evident during this month.
CNW: For 16 years you worked with the Department of Children and Family Services. What did that experience teach you about child abuse and prevention?
Jones: I am very proud of the work that I did at DCFS and the children and families that I helped. As a child-abuse investigator, a child-abuse investigative supervisor and a child-protection manager supervising investigative and intact family teams, I learned so much about child maltreatment, drug/alcohol dependency, domestic violence, social norms, cultural norms, family dynamics and more.
All of my experience at DCFS confirmed for me that education is truly the key to helping people to recognize, prevent and report abuse or neglect. There are a lot of people in this world who truly don’t understand what constitutes child abuse and neglect. Many are also not clear about proper boundaries. Some people don’t know how to protect children or when or how to report abuse. This lack of knowledge is often due to lack of understanding, lack of education, lack of resources, few to no support systems, denial and/or cultural norms.
I truly believe that I was put on this earth to ensure the safety of children, and I will do all that I can to fulfill my purpose by working to educate every child and adult in addition to working to secure needed services and resources.
For resources and information about preventing child abuse, visit www.childrenmatternetwork.org.