November 10, 2011

Gifts to Community Shares help Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee and other community agencies

Each year in Tennessee, the number of children reported abused or neglected would more than fill Titans stadium.

If that fact isn’t sobering enough, consider this: Most abuse cases in the state involve children age 4 and younger. For more than 25 years, Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee has been battling the epidemic of abuse and neglect by offering a host of interventions aimed at strengthening families.

Headquartered in Nashville, PCAT serves all 95 counties in the state.

"Our mission is to work with parents, families and communities to provide services or connect people to services designed to prevent abuse and neglect before it starts," said Carla Snodgrass, executive director of PCAT.

One of the ways PCAT does this is through its 24-hour domestic violence hotline and parent help line (1-800-CHILDREN), a vital resource for those who find themselves in a desperate situation – at the hands of an abuser or at a point where they might become abusive toward their children.

Victims of domestic violence who call the hotline are immediately put in touch with shelters and other resources in their communities.

“Any time we can intervene and get a domestic violence victim into a safe place and help her figure out how to keep her children safe is a really big step in preventing child abuse and neglect,” Snodgrass said. “In 70 percent of the cases in which domestic violence is happening to a spouse or a partner, children are also being abused.”

Whether a child suffers abuse directly or indirectly, it can have a devastating long-term effect.

“Children who experience domestic violence can have post-traumatic stress disorder, so they might do poorly in school or be unable to concentrate,” Snodgrass said. “They might have mental health issues or even physical illnesses, such as stomach issues or trouble sleeping.”

The parent help line also is a valuable tool for those dealing with the pressures of parenting and daily life – pressures made worse by these tough economic times.

“In the current economy, we are fielding calls from a lot of people who are at their wits end in terms of stress,” Snodgrass said. “Their income has been slashed, or often they’ve lost their employment – we hear this especially in our rural counties.

“They just don’t know what they’re going to do from day to day, and sometimes the people they take it out on are their children,” she said.

Counselors can help callers take a breath, get perspective and gain access to resources, such as financial assistance, to help alleviate the stress.

Other PCAT programs include the Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention Coalition, which partners with the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and others to teach parents effective calming strategies for crying infants. The instruction can take place in a hospital-based setting after the birth of a baby, through in-home visitation programs and in early child care centers. This directed parent education effort has shown to decrease incidents of shaken baby syndrome in Tennessee by up to 57 percent.

PCAT’s Healthy Families Tennessee program also offers in-home coaching, support and information to expectant parents of at-risk newborns. Family counselors offer emotional support, discuss infant care and development, model parenting skills, help parents maintain sobriety when needed and provide links to community resources. Counselors work with families from the last trimester of a pregnancy up through age 5 to build strengths and support networks.

According to Snodgrass, less than 10 percent of PCAT’s overall funding goes toward administrative costs. That means giving to PCAT will likely have a direct impact on these important initiatives that help protect Tennessee’s children from abuse and neglect.

Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee is one of many agencies comprising Community Shares, a federation dedicated to supporting Tennessee social change organizations in order to promote a more just and caring community. You may designate PCAT or any Community Shares member organization when you give to the community through Vanderbilt Gives.

“At its core, Community Shares member agencies address the root causes of problems by involving those affected to create a long-lasting foundation for a just and peaceful community. In short, we find solutions that work,” said Tracey Hawk, Middle Tennessee director of Community Shares.

“The common thread is a commitment to personal responsibility and community action,” she said. “Our member groups address a range of issues, including animal welfare, unemployment, racism, sexism, homelessness, access to clean air and water, urban violence, civil liberties, child abuse prevention, the education of our children, access to health care and supporting strong communities.”

Another opportunity to support PCAT is by participating in the 2011 Snowflake 5K, the agency’s primary annual fundraiser. The event is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 10, at Shelby Bottoms Park. Register for the Snowflake 5K here.

Gifts can be made to this and other community agencies through Dec. 31.