National Child Abuse Prevention Month: Planting Seeds to Reduce Child Abuse One Family at a Time

Guest Blog by Alyshia Wayland, Lead IIS/IFRS Specialist

Child abuse is a topic that most people avoid, but the dedicated specialists who work in Intensive In-Home and Intensive Family Reunification services (IIS/IFRS) run towards it. There are many families who need assistance learning to parent their children in a safe way, and various reasons why child abuse occurs in the first place. Below are several reasons IIS/IFRS specialists frequently encounter:

1. Young parents - Parenting doesn't come with a manual, so sometimes people just don't know and understand how to care for a child. They may not have had role models or positive influences to teach them. People usually parent the same way they were raised, so if that was not a positive experience, they may continue that same cycle just because they don't know anything different.

2. Mental Health – It’s no secret that there is a mental health crisis happening in the world, and mental health concerns hinder parenting as well. There are many times when parents don’t understand how their mental health is affecting their ability to parent their children.

3. Lack of resources – There are a lot of parents who just don’t have all the resources they need to parent their children. Lack of transportation, money, and the ability to understand physicians have all hindered parents from keeping their children safe.

4. Substance abuse – Many parents use substances to numb the pain of childhood disturbances or trauma that they’ve experienced. Some parents start using at such a young age that they don’t know what life could be without those substances.

5. Unhealthy Relationships – Sometimes, the immediate parent is not the concern, but an unsafe partner or friend they allow around their children can cause issues for the child for all the reasons listed above.


How do specialists help families navigate these unique concerns?

Our specialists work with parents on a short-term basis to increase their protective capacities – characteristics directly related to child safety. This often involves creating learning opportunities and concrete examples to demonstrate safe and healthy ways to care for children. It also involves developing a good rapport and working relationship with the family so they can be receptive to the information.

With young parents, we teach them the basics of caring for a child and how to interact with professional services respectfully. Our specialists observe the current skill set of the parent and teach additional skills or present a safe alternative for the parent if there are concerns. Specialists will observe actions such as feeding, bathing, and diapering a baby, as well as discipline techniques and overall supervision of the children. Many specialists also create role-play scenarios to teach parents how to interact with physicians, school personnel, etc. This allows the specialist to coach the parent through the scenario so they are prepared for the conversations and know how to respond in a respectful manner.

Teaching the information in a fun and interactive way makes the process easier for both the families and specialists. In one instance, I utilized blindfolds to teach parents about communication. I created a small obstacle course in their home and blindfolded them one at a time. While one parent was blindfolded, the other had to verbally guide them through the home to get to their baby on the other side. The parents learned a lot about themselves and each other while laughing in the process. The family still reaches out to me periodically to share pictures and update me on how well they are doing.

Mental health concerns can be a huge challenge for specialists depending on where the parent is in their mental health journey. Most families that we work with who have mental health concerns are not in a good place. Supporting parents who have a mental health component involves teaching them the concepts of safety and continually assessing if the parent can understand and grasp the idea.

I once crawled around on the floor like a two-year-old to demonstrate the potential dangers a toddler could encounter without proper supervision. Unfortunately, the mother couldn’t grasp the concept and didn’t understand her role in protecting her children, so additional measures were taken to keep the children safe.

Lack of resources is a significant hindrance for many of the families we encounter. Whether the lack comes from money, transportation, or understanding medical diagnoses, lack of resources quickly causes frustration for many parents. Sometimes, solutions are as simple as helping them learn to budget their resources to stretch further, connecting them with local support services, or assisting them with understanding all the benefits of their medical coverage. 

Unhealthy relationships plague several of the families that we work with. Many families don’t know what a healthy relationship is supposed to look like because they’ve never seen one. Unhealthy relationships are normal in their eyes, so they don’t realize they are imparting that same perspective to their children. Teaching parents about healthy boundaries, recognizing red flags, and learning to evaluate people by their character are vital steps in increasing parents’ awareness.

With one family, I created a “dating game” based off a TV show. The parent learned about healthy dating strategies and could put those strategies to the test by playing the game. The game consisted of three eligible bachelors, each with three pieces of baggage that revealed something about themselves. The mother had to pick who to date based on the information she received. One of the bachelors was also modeled after the person she had been dating. The mother picked the “healthiest bachelor,” demonstrating that she learned the concepts of healthy relationships. It made her consider why she continued to choose the partners she did in her real life, which is exactly what the game was designed to do.

As specialists working with families, we don’t always get to see the fruits of our labor. Most of the time, we plant seeds with families and ask them to consider healthier ways to parent their children. We meet parents at one of the worst times in their lives and walk with them for a short time, planting seeds along the way. Once the seeds are planted, we water them while working with the families, hoping they will continue growing long after our time together is completed.

Throughout my time at Cornerstones of Care, I’ve witnessed families learn to parent their children safely, initiated tough conversations with parents who didn’t have the capacity to parent safely, and celebrated with families when their children were released from jurisdiction. I’ve learned from these families just as much as they have learned from me.

Though some of our seeds fall on hollow ground, over 80 percent of families remain intact 12 months after completing our program. When life hands these families dirt, we provide them with tools and help them plant seeds to grow.

Learn More About Our Prevention Services