Education is key in prevention

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month

Education is imperative to help prevent child abuse, according to officials with Building Families.

“Our goal is that every child be healthy, happy and successful,” said Angela Wesselink, Parent Coordinator with Building Families, “I work on helping parents – our goal is preventing child abuse. So it’s helping give parents the tools to help them to be the best parent they can be.”

That goal is especially being highlighted this month, as April is Child Abuse Awareness Month.

Wesselink does group-based and in-home parenting classes. All of the curriculum used is evidence based. She has a variety of curriculum to use for all ages.

“Parenting is such a rewarding but such a tough job. It is the hardest job around,” said Wesselink. “Every parent wants their child to grow up and be successful and happy.We help provide tools for them to be able to do that.”

Before joining forces with Building Families, Wesselink did case management for seven years and worked with individuals on the ID and brain injury waiver.

“I love being a social worker,” said Wesselink. “I love making a difference. This was a new opportunity and avenue to make a difference.”

“In April, we like to draw attention to the fact that child abuse is preventable and everybody can make a difference,” Wesselink said.

According to Wesselink, for every dollar spent in prevention efforts and education, it saves fifty dollars in managing the damage caused by child abuse.

“Child abuse can be so damaging and people don’t understand all the long term costs that can occur to society because of child abuse,” said Wesselink.

One in five girls and one in ten boys in Hamilton County will be sexually abused by their eighteenth birthday, according to Wesselink.

“Last year Wright County was number one out of the 99 counties for sexual abuse for children,” said Wesselink, “and those are just the cases that were founded and prosecuted. That’s only three percent of cases that are founded, caught and convicted.”

According to data, 90 percent of child sexual abuse is done by people that either the parent or child knows.

“The best way to prevent childhood sexual abuse is through education, to help educate our children, how to protect them,” said Wesselink.

Building Families has a series of resources for parents including presentations, classes, and literature online. The agency teaches a Darkness to Light training that gives parents tips on how to prevent sexual abuse. The class is two hours long, but can be edited into shorter talks.

“If there is a parent that is interested in home parenting classes, my classes are free, confidential and voluntary,” said Wesselink.

The training is free. Individuals can get continuing education credit through the training as well.

“Prevention is so much cheaper than healing a broken adult,” said Wesselink.

Some tips taught to parents include:

• Teach children the correct names of their body parts

• Teach children which parts of their bodies are private areas (Wesselink provided an example of informing children that their private parts are where their swim suits touch their bodies)

• Never force children to give affection: this teaches children that they have control over who they give affection to

• Listen to your children

“If they tell you a story, believe them. Kids don’t lie to get into trouble,” said Wesselink. “Kids lie to get out of trouble. If a child comes to tell you that something like this is happening, that’s not a lie. They don’t want to lie to get in trouble.”

To assist parents, a list of age-appropriate resources can be found at the Building Families website or by calling Wesselink at (515) 293-0652.

Wesselink also provides curriculum for parents with disabled children.

“My own son has Autism and I found that I had to figure out a way to parent him differently to accommodate and help him find his strengths,” said Wesselink. “We have curriculum to assist with that.”

Wesselink also leads a support group for parents with children with disabilities. The group meets the second Tuesday of each month at the Eagle Grove Public Library from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The group is open to anyone and is free to attend.

“Any parent who is struggling with issues is welcome to attend,” said Wesselink. “All of my services are free and voluntary.”

“I believe every family has lots of strengths. Every parent wants to do the best they can by their children. This gives me an opportunity to help support parents to be the best parents they can be,” Wesselink said.

For more information about Building Families and the services the organization offers, visit buildingfamilies.net or check out their Facebook page. Volunteers are also welcome. Building Families serves Hamilton, Humboldt and Wright Counties.

“Every beautiful baby deserves the right to grow up in a loving, nurturing and safe environment,” Wesselink said. “Child abuse prevention is a 365-day job … kids are our future.”

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