Programs can help stop child abuse during pandemic

To the editor:

In an article recently published in these pages, I pointed to an alarming increase in child abuse and neglect cases here in Kane County.

Clearly, this statistic reflects that these are times of heightened hardship for many families. With that in mind, it’s important to highlight an effective effort that, more than ever, deserves support: evidence-based home-visiting programs. These programs provide “parent coaching” for families of at-risk children during the prenatal-to-5-years-old period, and their effects can be life-changing.

The trusting and mentoring relationships that home-visiting professionals develop with parents who face multiple stresses lead to many positive outcomes. Voluntary home visiting can help reduce the terrible toll of child abuse and the risk of future crime it bears, improve parenting skills and lead to increased child literacy and academic achievement. This two-generation approach creates stronger families and strengthens the fabric of our communities. This, in turn, improves public safety and reduces burdens on taxpayers.

That is why the law enforcement leaders of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, an anti-crime organization I have been a part of for many years, have long advocated for home visiting.   Programs such as Family Focus and VNA Health Care, here in Kane County, are good examples of this work – even during the challenges of this COVID pandemic.

Such services have creatively adapted to the new social-distancing guidelines by continuing their parent-coaching efforts through virtual “home visits” via videoconference and telephone. Illinois recently took a significant step in closing the gap on the need for these critical services.  The Illinois Prenatal to Three (PN3) Initiative has laid-out a plan to double the number of children and families participating in evidenced-based home visiting over the next five years. The PN3 plan — while requiring increased state support for home visiting, over time — will help more families build foundations for future success, and make our communities safer in the long-term.

As we’ve already seen, the current health crisis adversely affects vulnerable children and families. Home-visiting programs, even through virtual visits, serve as a vital lifeline and connector for many of these families. So let’s make sure they are given the resources they need, even in a very strapped state budget.

Joe McMahon

Kane County State’s Attorney