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Gov. Bill Richardson issued a proclamation naming April “Child Abuse Prevention Month” in an effort to address the approximate 30,000 reports of child abuse and neglect in New Mexico each year.
“Child abuse and neglect are serious problems and finding a solution depends upon the involvement of people within our community,” Richardson states in his proclamation. “During periods of economic challenges, families feel more vulnerable and as a result child abuse and neglect increase drastically.”
While child abuse may not be as prevalent in Los Alamos as in larger and poorer communities, it does exist and there have been cases in which children have been taken away from their parents due to abuse, said Counseling Center Director Cheryl Pongratz of the Los Alamos Family Council at 1505 15th St.
“We have people in anger management programs here at Family Council and I think every school counselor is aware of abuse cases,” Pongratz said. “Don’t ignore it — if a parent finds their child is driving them crazy or if they feel like hitting their child they should step back and assess the situation.”
Pongratz also discussed something she sees in the local community, which she calls “benign neglect.” There’s nothing malicious about it — it’s just that we have a lot of parents who come home from work very tired and don’t have the energy to spend time with their children and the children tell us they feel neglected.”
Pongratz suggests visiting the Family Strengths Network in the Pueblo Complex on Diamond Drive. The nonprofit organization has an extensive lending library of books on parenting as well as parenting classes.
“Their parenting classes cover all ages from infants and toddlers to elementary school age and adolescents,” she said. “It’s really important for a parent who has slapped their child really hard in anger to seek counseling. They need to seek help right away. It’s so hard for parents when their children are taken away because of abuse and this has happened a number of times in this community.”
Three members of the New Mexico Behavioral Health Collaborative — the Children, Youth and Families Department, the Human Services Department and the Department of Health are partnering this month to help raise awareness of and prevent child abuse and support families in their efforts to provide a safe and nurturing environment for all New Mexico children.
One of the initiatives includes encouraging parents to learn the 12 alternatives to lashing out at your child as a child abuse prevention method, as well as 10 pieces of advice for new moms and dads.
“Sometimes a simple suggestion, such as splashing cold water on your face, or taking a deep breath and remembering you are the adult can make all the difference in keeping your cool as a parent and avoiding what could turn into a violent situation,” CYFD Secretary Dorian Dodson said in a news release. “We are providing the 12 tips to our clients and as many parents as possible in the community to prevent as many child abuse situations as possible.”
Another initiative being launched during Child Abuse Prevention Month is the Maternal Depression Workgroup pilot program to address maternal depression and substance abuse.
“Maternal depression, either prenatal or postpartum, gone unrecognized and untreated can have a devastating effect on the entire family,” Department of Health Secretary Alfredo Vigil said in the release. “The pilot program is designed to offer new or pregnant mothers with depression an opportunity to get the care they need to ensure a healthy motherhood for the first year, which is an incredibly critical time for the mother, child and family.”
The pilot program will work with women in Santa Fe County, Sandoval County and San Miguel County. The goal is to assure that women with depression during pregnancy or postpartum, especially women at dual risk due to substance abuse identified through validated screening, receive the care they need to be healthy parents for one year.
A third initiative is a public service announcement encouraging parents to recognize the possibility of child abuse or neglect and urging them to seek help.
“There are a lot of pressures new parents face; many of them financial,” Human Services Department Secretary Katie Falls said. “Parents might think they are alone in dealing with these issues, and we hope the public service announcements will help them learn they are not and there is help available.”
While the goal is to prevent child abuse, the governor’s proclamation also encourages “all New Mexicans to be vigilant and fervent in their efforts to stop child abuse, recognize when it happens and know what to do when you suspect it. Report abuse or neglect to the Children, Youth and Families Department Statewide Central Intake Hotline, 1-800-797-3260, or to law enforcement or the appropriate tribal entity.”
Individual, group and family counselingee is available at the Los Alamos Family Council for adults, adolescents and children — whether or not they have insurance.
Domestic violence therapy in the areas of family and domestic violence also is available for victims, perpetrators and family members. For information, call 662-3264.