TAMPA — Forty years ago, a seminar convened by the Junior League of Tampa riveted the community's attention on the growing problem of child abuse and led to the creation of a nonprofit group focused on fighting it.
One woman who helped organize the historic meeting hopes to replicate its success today with another seminar, Thursday morning, called, "Community Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect."
"It was that conference and the interest and enthusiasm to do something about child abuse that prompted me to say, 'I think we should repeat a conference 40 years later'," said Liz Kennedy, development director with the organization that arose from the first gathering — now called Champions for Children. "Great things happened, so my thought was we should have another community conference and look at where it is now."
Child abuse generated little public discussion in the 1970s, when it was known broadly as "child maltreatment," Kennedy said. The predecessor of Champions for Children, known as the Child Abuse Council, dealt mainly with "deep end treatment" of children facing the most serious abuse.
That changed about 20 years ago, Kennedy said.
"We began to realize we need to serve more and more younger children, reaching at risk families with prevention services," Kennedy said. "In a child's life, we need to intervene as early as possible."
In Hillsborough County, the child protection system monitors some 2,800 children deemed to be at risk of abuse — 1,430 of them in their own homes and 2,348 of them with another relative or in foster care. Each year, an estimated 12,000 child abuse complaints are lodged in the county, Kennedy said.
A child is entered into the system once a child protective investigator identifies some sign of danger from a caregiver. The investigator takes immediate action to ensure safety, which can include court-ordered services in the home of a caregiver or removal and placement of a child in foster care, said Adrienne Drew, with Eckerd Kids, which works with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Child Protection Division to support families in need.
"We need to figure out how we as a community can do it best," Kennedy said. "We're all still in this together."
The sold-out seminar Thursday at the Glazer Jewish Community Center in Tampa will feature presentations by the top state official working in child abuse prevention, Mike Carroll of the state Department of Children and Families, and Charlyn Harper Browne, senior associate with the Center for the Study of Social Policy, a Washington, D.C., based group that pioneered efforts to keep children safe in their own homes.
In an interview last week, Brown told the Tampa Bay Times she will speak about five ways of protecting children known as the Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework. They focus on prevention as well as simple ways to develop a healthy family life.
"A two generation approach is extremely important," Browne said. "We can't just focus on children and send them back to a home where the parent hasn't learned, too."
Across the country, childhood, social service and child-abuse and neglect programs have adopted the framework into their policies, including the Children's Bureau — a federal office that works to reduce child abuse and neglect.
"We can't simply talk about preventing child abuse and neglect without promoting healthy development in parents and young children," Browne said.