Greg Harris letter 4-27-12

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Guest commentary by Greg Harris

Home visiting strategy curbs child abuse

More than 20 children are abused or neglected in Mississippi every day.

According to a new national report, prepared by the Christian nonprofit Shepherding the Next Generation, over 7,400 Mississippi children were abused or neglected in 2010, with 17 children dying as a result.

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As a parent, it’s gut wrenching to hear these numbers. As a pastor, I have observed the heartache too often as I have sat across from victims and their families in the counseling room. While we may all speculate about what needs to be done to end this sad epidemic – in our state and in our nation – there is research that suggests that one strategy has the potential to cut child abuse and neglect in half.

Research has shown that for at-risk women experiencing a pregnancy, evidence-based voluntary home visiting can provide resources and support before serious problems occur, helping new parents raise a healthy child. Home visiting is a strategy in which a parent (often a single mom) volunteers to have a trained professional come into the home and offer guidance and support so that the mother can become the skillful parent God intended her to be.

Consider these results among families participating in an evidence-based home visiting program:

· Abuse and neglect was cut nearly in half,

· The affected children’s involvement in later crime was cut by more than half,

· The children’s fathers were more involved with their families, and

· The mothers were up to a third less likely to be dependent on welfare.

Evidence-based voluntary home visiting not only strengthens the family, it also strengthens our communities, providing significant cost savings by reducing federal, state and local spending on child welfare and criminal justice.

We know children are vulnerable and that as adults, God gives us the responsibility to protect them and to speak on their behalf – whether they are our flesh and blood or the child next door. On April 29th churches across the nation will speak up on behalf of the victims of abuse and neglect by observing Blue Sunday. On this day we will set aside a special time in our services to pray for the victims of abuse and neglect and those who labor to rescue children and strengthen and restore families.

This month has been National Child Abuse Prevention Month – what better time to consider what each of us can do to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are protected. We have an obligation to protect Mississippi children and we have an opportunity to invest in programs that will strengthen the family, our communities and future generations. I encourage Mississippi to invest in evidence-based home visiting and I encourage the church to join us on Blue Sunday as we pray for the victims and those who rescue them.

(Greg Harris is the pastor of Calvary Christian Center in Batesville.)