One of the fundamental responsibilities of any society is the protection of its children, who represent its future. Because of crime, poverty, teen pregnancy, lack of education, and other complex issues it is a responsibility society doesn't always meet, but it is one that is taken seriously in Berkshire County and in Massachusetts.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and it was marked in Pittsfield Thursday by the Child Abuse Prevention and Intervention Strategies for Our Community Conference at the Country Club of Pittsfield. About 70 professionals and youth advocates took part in the second annual summit sponsored by Berkshire County Kids' Place. In Boston, about 200 parents and advocates participated in the "Step Up for Prevention!" ceremony at the State House. On the building's steps were placed 66 pairs of children's shoes, symbolizing the number of cases of child abuse and neglect in the state each day.
It is disheartening that so many children who are unable to defend themselves are victimized in Massachusetts, but what is doubly discouraging is the reality that these figures constitute the reported cases. Children's fear and parents' shame result in cases going unreported. When abuse goes unresolved and unpunished, victims are likely to repeat the cycle. Teen pregnancy, a nagging Berkshire issue that shows signs of improvement, can lead to abuse at the hands of harried teen moms and irresponsible teen dads.
At Thursday's session in Pittsfield, parents received tips on how to protect their children from online abuse and bullying. The abuse problem is less formidable when parents work together, such as through a neighborhood Crimes Against Children Watch Group. The Berkshire District Attorney's Office outlined its efforts to combat sexual assault and work with other state agencies to uncover abuse. Methods of recognizing signs of abuse in children were explained.
An important message sent to children and parents from Thursday's conference was that they are not alone. Educators, social agencies and law enforcement institutions are on the job, and the public and privately financed Children's Trust Fund is investing $15 million for programs to attack the abuse issue. It's a terrible problem that defies easy solutions, but good work is being done to combat it.