Column by Jeannine Panzera: Together, we can serve families, support our schools, and stop child abuse | columnists

By Jeannine Panzera

AIn our community, parents and caregivers struggle to balance the stresses of daily life with caring for their children. Whether it’s working multiple jobs to put food on the table, dealing with a substance use disorder, handling a major financial setback, or keeping mental health issues at bay, it can sometimes be very difficult to balance these pressures with parenting. children.

Going back to school is an additional challenge. Most children have returned to face-to-face classrooms, but the effects of the pandemic continue to linger in our schools. Parents are juggling COVID-19 exposures and absences, lagging academic progress, and changing teacher expectations.

Unfortunately, stress in its many forms can be a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect. At Henrico CASA, we have seen this time and time again with the children and families we serve. Stress is a natural byproduct of parenthood, but when combined with anxiety about things like finances, health, or relationships, it can become too much for one person to handle.

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Let me be clear: there is no excuse for abuse or neglect. However, by understanding and acknowledging that these underlying issues can cause abuse and neglect, our community can better prevent them and help families safely stay together. After all, we know that the vast majority of parents love their children and want the best for them.

So you may be wondering: What can you do to help?

As a community, we can come together to help our own family, friends, and neighbors reduce the stress of parenthood. While we support families, we also indirectly support our school system, allowing teachers and administrators to focus on what they do best: educate.

Here are some ideas to get you started. They may seem small, but they certainly pack a big punch.

Offer babysitting or help sharing school to support a family. Better yet, use that time to make sure the kids have done their homework. These simple acts can take an immense amount of stress off the backs of caregivers.

Donate items to help ease a stressed family. School-related necessities can be especially useful, such as clothes, backpacks, and school supplies. By providing these items, you can help ease caregivers’ anxiety about where they will find the money for these additional expenses. It will also help prevent teachers from having to purchase additional supplies.

Offer to cook or buy a meal. Many children have access to free meals while they attend school. However, families experiencing some form of food insecurity still need to cover meals for dinners, weekends, and school holidays. Donating a meal can really help caregivers who are struggling to fill their pantries. And children learn best when they aren’t distracted by hunger or other unmet needs.

Offering caregivers the opportunity to reduce their own stress by talking about their feelings is invaluable. Listen and empathize.

Share your experiences with them, but also share resources you’ve found helpful in parenting and navigating life. Let them know that they can turn to you in times of uncertainty or anxiety.

These little acts of kindness add up. We never fully know what a family can face behind closed doors. Even one of these acts could mean the world to a caregiver who feels alone and unsupported in raising her child.

As friends and neighbors, we must work to build support systems around families. They are the foundation for safe children, healthy homes, and a thriving community.

Will you join me in showing families that we support them? We are on your side, willing and ready to support you.

Jeannine Panzera is Executive Director of Henrico CASA, a nonprofit organization that recruits, trains, and supervises volunteers who advocate for children experiencing abuse and neglect. Contact her at:

[email protected]

To learn more about the work of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs), visit:

www.HenricoCASA.org

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