As the coronavirus outbreak continues to cast a shadow over our everyday lives, it can feel like the world only has one thing to talk about. But even when things are so far from normal, we shouldn’t lose sight of another critical conversation.
Today in America, five children will die at the hands of an abuser. And as terrible as that number is, it represents only a small fraction of the lasting harm caused by child abuse. Decades later, survivors are at higher risk of chronic illness, depression, addiction, and all-cause mortality.
Abuse is a public health crisis, but it’s not one we like to bring up. Deep down, none of us really wants to believe that a parent could harm a child. We certainly don’t want to think that it happens in our community. But when we avoid conversations about abuse – instead of encouraging them – we deprive children and survivors of the chance to find help.
The MANicure Movement aims to change that. This statewide campaign that began when Central Florida’s nonprofit foster care lead agency, Embrace Families, partnered with local business leaders and law enforcement to promote awareness of child abuse. The idea was to paint one nail blue for National Child Abuse Prevention Month to represent the one in five children who experience abuse before their 18th birthday.
Anyone can take part. All you need to do is paint the fingernail of your pointer finger blue (the color of child abuse prevention). Then be prepared to use that polished nail as a conversation-starter for advocacy. Some people start fundraising pages or pledge donations to charity; others post photos with #MANicureMovement on social media and challenge friends to join in. The only wrong way to participate is not to.
As we continue to stay home and avoid nonessential travel in the interest of public health, many families are feeling the strain of isolation. Caregivers who are out of work may struggle with anxiety and financial insecurity. Meanwhile, support from neighbors, faith groups, colleagues, teachers and others may be stripped away. It’s up to us as a community to fill that gap.
Often, families involved in child abuse are not bad people; they are just in bad situations. Sometimes the best way to help kids is by getting parents and caretakers the resources they need to make it through mental illness, substance addiction or financial distress – or a pandemic.
Learn about the warning signs of child abuse and know who you can call if you’re concerned about the safety of any child. When it’s safe to do so, volunteer your time as an advocate, mentor, tutor, foster parent or weekend volunteer. You can also support charities that provide medical assistance, education, food or resources to households in need.
Raising awareness shouldn’t be limited to only a month. Join me in making a statement of solidarity, courage and support. Paint your nails, start conversations, and fight to give children in abusive situations a lifeline to care and compassion.
Glen Casel is president and CEO of Embrace Families, Central Florida’s lead nonprofit agency helping families overcome the root causes of abuse and neglect through programs that offer case management and other prevention services.