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Initiative seeks to protect every child.

Byline: Diane Dietz The Register-Guard

Against all historical evidence, University of Oregon educators are making audacious claims about Lane County potentially being the first county in the nation to all but vanquish child abuse and neglect.

The UO officials say it with about the same confidence that billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates uses on eradicating polio; they say their plans could actually work.

"We are going to have a huge shift between now and 2030 in Lane County. Absolutely," said Phyllis Barkhurst, director of the UO-based 90by30 Child Abuse Prevention Initiative.

The concept is to reduce child abuse and neglect by 90 percent by 2030.

Organizers are inviting Lane County residents to a two-day conference, featuring national child abuse headliners, on Friday and Saturday at Valley River Inn. It's called "Building Bridges: Connecting Communities to Prevent Child Abuse."

The 90by30 organizers are optimistic, even though the heavy lifting of Lane County organizations such as Relief Nursery, United Way and the former Birth To Three - now renamed Parenting Now! - has not ended the suffering of children here.

"Despite millions of dollars and more than 30 years of working directly with children and families on early intervention strategies, rates of child abuse and neglect in the county had risen steadily," according to a UO write-up.

Lane County saw 710 founded cases of child abuse or neglect in 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available. That year, 1,703 Lane County children spent a day or more in foster care (some were removed from home in earlier years).

A black ribbon of sorrow runs through the county in the names of children dead by abuse or neglect: Tesslynn O'Cull, 3 years old. Joshua Ralls, 18 months. Sarah Rambeck, 17 months. Lacey Rossini, 13 years. Lacey Folenius, 3 years. Ryan Potter, 14 months. Jeanette Maples, 15 years.

Each of those blows galvanized Lane County residents to try to do better.

But most victims of abuse and neglect never make the headlines. Of the 710 cases of child abuse or neglect in 20ll, 69 were physical abuse and 67 were sexual abuse. But the majority - 520 cases - were neglect, ostensibly unseen, unknown and not acted on.

Parents or their live-in companions are responsible in 94 percent of abuse and neglect cases, so much of it probably happens at home.

A random-digit telephone survey of 351 Eugene-Springfield survivors of violence - who were mostly children when they were hurt - asked participants: When you first experienced abuse or violence, how often did anyone try to help or protect you? Often, 12 percent said. Rarely, 20 percent said. Never, 48 percent said.

"When you look at how child abuse and neglect works, it's in isolation," Barkhurst said. "So breaking isolation is a key. It's a difficult thing to do when people feel that getting involved is interfering with somebody else's business. That's a social or cultural norm that really needs to be challenged."

The government, police or social workers can't end child abuse and neglect, Barkhurst said.

"Our overburdened system has to really respond where there's danger to a child. They have to pick and choose. They're not going to respond if someone calls and says a child seems to have no more clothes," she said.

The 90by30 aim is to strengthen neighborhood ties so neighbors feel like they can help support their neighbors who are dealing with the stress of raising children. They also want to change the Lane County culture so it's "unconscionable for anyone to turn a blind eye to the maltreatment of children," according to the group's literature.

"If we believe it's our concern, and we know what to do about it when we are concerned, it changes our whole social norm," Barkhurst said. "If you see a family struggling, if you see a kid wear the same clothes every day for two weeks, it's an indicator of something."

John Radich, state child welfare manager who oversees offices in Lane County, said he's in favor of whatever "we" can do - although 2030 is a long way off, he said.

"Nobody wants to have a child hurt in any way," he said. "The sooner we can prevent and reduce those numbers, the better."

So far, 90by30 organizers have rallied 200 participants. "Our big goal for 2013 is to have (six) teams all fully formed and choosing their strategies," Barkhurst said.

The recruits have included aged-out Parent Teacher Association members, teachers, counselors, graduate students and retired people looking for a place to put their energies, Barkhurst said.

"We're trying to show there's a role for everyone, and we can't continue to rely on nonprofits and governmental entities and law enforcement to take on such a complex issue, because we're not seeing the big decreases in child abuse we want to see," she said.

The conference, which organizers plan to repeat annually, is for both people in the helping professions and for others committed to stopping child abuse and neglect. Organizers are hoping to attract more rural Lane County residents and more nonprofit group employees, so they've dropped the price to $49, down from $129 to accommodate them - and scholarships can cover most of the cost for those who can't pay. "We're not going to let finances be a barrier if people really want to come," Barkhurst said.

One top speaker is Melissa Brodowski from the Children's Bureau, a unit of the federal Department of Health & Human Services in Washington, D.C. She is an expert on child abuse prevention programs nationally, and she's going to tell the Lane County audience what doesn't work.

Another top speaker, Dr. Howard Spivak, director of the violence prevention unit of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, will give a status report on prevention activities nationally.

Some of those programs will "absolutely" work in Lane County, Barkhurst said.

The county has the advantage of so many people working for so long on the problem, she said.

"If you think of it as a puzzle, Lane County has more pieces of the puzzle in place than other places in Oregon, for sure. There's a foundation here."

The graying demographics are on Lane County's side, too.

"There's five adults for every child under 18 in Lane County, so we have the resources right there, if we know how to use them," Barkhurst said.


Lane County residents seeking new and proven ways to end child abuse

When: 8:30 a.m. Friday; 9 a.m. Saturday

Where: Valley River Inn, 1000 Valley River Way

To register:

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Title Annotation:University Of Oregon; Advocates want the community's help to find ways to reduce abuse and neglect by 90 percent by 2030
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 4, 2013
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