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MEAGAN CONWAY MCCURLEY — Coming together to prevent child abuse, neglect

Across our community, there are parents and caregivers who may be struggling with balancing the stress of daily life alongside caring for a child.

Whether it is working multiple jobs trying to put food on the table, grappling with a substance use disorder, wondering where the next month’s rent will be coming from or figuring out how to deal with a major financial setback, balancing these pressures with parenting and running a household can at times be very difficult.

What’s more, with the rapid outbreak and still-developing effects of COVID-19, more families than ever are struggling — with health anxiety, job loss, social distancing, children out of school and other consequences.

Sadly, stress in its many forms can be a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect. At CASA of Southeast Texas, we’ve seen this time and time again with the children and families we serve who are involved in the foster care system.

Stress is a natural byproduct of parenthood, but when those stresses are combined with anxieties over things like financials, health, employment or relationships, it can become too much for one person to handle.

While there is no excuse for abuse or neglect, we must understand what underlying issues can cause it to occur if we, as a community, wish to prevent it and help families safely stay together. After all, we know that the vast majority of parents love their children – and the last thing they want is for their kids to have to go into foster care based on a mistake they may have made during a difficult time.

So maybe you’re wondering: What can you do to help? As a community, we can come together to help prevent child abuse and neglect by aiding our own family members, friends and neighbors in reducing the stresses of parenthood. There are many efforts you can undertake to support families directly, and while they may seem small, they can have a major effect.

I’ll preface by acknowledging that we’re still in an uncertain time with the COVID-19 pandemic. When reading these suggestions, please continue to be mindful of your health and the health of others.

Offering childcare is a wonderful way to support a family. That simple act can take an immense amount of stress off the back of that child’s caretaker. While you watch the kids, the caregiver has an opportunity to focus on getting important things done, but also more importantly has a moment to recuperate with some “me time” — reducing their stress.

Donating items is another great way to help relieve a strained family. Items like clothes, toys, diapers and toiletries are great examples of what you can give. By providing these items, you can help relieve the anxiety a caregiver may have about where they’ll find the money or time to buy them for their child and themselves.

Additionally, you can show your support for a family by offering to cook or buy them a meal. With around 11 percent of families in the United States experiencing some type of food insecurity, your simple action of donating a nutritious meal can make all the difference to a caregiver struggling to fill their pantry.

Beyond these acts of service, your time and conversation can be just as valuable to a new or stressed parent – especially now as we’re limiting our contact with others. You don’t need to be physically near someone in order to be a listening ear and friend!

This simple act can help a caregiver reduce his or her own stress by being able to talk out their feelings. Furthermore, if you have experience with raising a child, you can offer to share your advice and act as a resource for the parent. He or she can turn to you as someone with shared experience when there are moments of uncertainty or anxiety. Even if you don’t personally have experience with raising a child, you can still listen.

You can also share resources or you can connect a parent with someone you know who may be able to give him or her advice.

Meagan Conway McCurley is interim executive director of CASA of Southeast Texas, which recruits, trains and supports volunteers to advocate for children and families involved with the foster care system in Jefferson County.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. If you see abuse, report it to 800-252-5400 or go to www.txabusehotline.org. If a child’s life is in danger, call 911.

If you’re interested in learning about the work of CASA of Southeast Texas, call 409-832-2272 or visit www.casasetx.org for more information.