Second Child Protection Forum Focuses On Community

SCRIBA, NY – Building relationships and community involvement were the common theme Wednesday night at the second in a series of forums on child protection in Oswego County.

The Child Protection Advisory Council was created last year by the county legislature examine child protection issues in the county and report back to the legislature regarding possible improvements.

Held at the Scriba Justice Center, the program was hosted by the council and moderated by Diane Cooper-Currier, director of Oswego County Opportunities, and a member of the council.

Throughout the 90-minute event, she questioned the nearly four dozen audience members about what the community could do to protect children in the county from abuse and neglect.

Some said the children needed positive role models and activities. Others pointed out that parents also need a support system; problems in their lives can spill over to hurting their children.

Cooper-Currier asked what could be done to correct the problem?

Knowledge and awareness were the two most popular responses.

Parents need to know how to be a parent, one woman said. “If they don’t have the proper skills, then they’re just spinning their wheels,” she said.

The issue of “kids having kids” needs to be addressed as this group has the least amount of parenting skills, the audience agreed.

“That’s a good point. We focus on what children need, but parents need that support and awareness, too,” Cooper-Currier said.

Others noted that neighbors should be helping neighbors.

“People need to talk openly about this issue,” said Gail Goebricher. “We need to realize it does exist and raise awareness. We need more parenting education in schools. Teen parents need to understand that this is not a puppy or a kitten, this is a real baby – it’s not something you have for a couple months.”

Other suggestions included children having relationships with adults, other than just family members; awareness of where children and parents can turn in stressful times for assistance; and more family events within the neighborhoods and community.

Some asked why agencies like DSS aren’t doing more to save children at risk.

“The challenge in these situations is the awareness that there is a need or awareness that there is a problem. And a lot of times the awareness occurs when a crime is committed or when a landlord goes in for some reason or another worker goes in or code enforcement is contacted – the fact is in some situations that have been highly publicized, neighbors will say they recognized there was something going on but nobody made the call. So I guess the suggestion is one of the things that becomes a helpful part of the process is how do we get to know our neighbors? How do we reach out to them if we sense that somebody is ion trouble? The fact is that we can’t know how bad it actually is until there is an incident that calls us into that situation,” said Gregg Heffner, director of services at the county DSS, and an ex-officio council member. “It’s really being able to recognize what authority services have to open the door and walk through.”

One of the biggest ways they make a difference in these types of situations is by engaging the community, and by having the community really taking care of their selves and by watching out for each other, he added.

“I think that has disappeared from the community’s landscape. I think that’s one of the reasons why you see these things and we observe them in horror because ‘oh, my God, why didn’t we know this was going on?’ – because no one went in, and the curtains are always pulled and the blinds are always closed and there was no real evidence that there was a problem there,” he continued.

How do we connect at a community level? he asked. That’s really stepping out of our comfort zone.

“This is just the beginning of the conversation,” said Kathy Fenlon, director of the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau, an ex-officio member of the council. “We don’t expect to come up with all the answers. This is just a step in the right direction.”

“This is a respectful dialogue, raising awareness about the topic and how we can, as a community, go about making positive change,” Cooper-Currier agreed.

The council will compile all the information gathered at the four forums and prepare a report for the legislature.

The public still has an opportunity to provide input.

Meetings will be hosted and facilitated by members of the council in two more locations. All meetings will be from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

They will be at the following locations:

  • April 28: Fulton Municipal Building, 141 S. First St., Fulton. Hosted by Melanie Trexler, director of the Oswego County United Way, and facilitated by Jeff Grimshaw.
  • May 3: Millard Hawk Primary School cafeteria, Central Square. Hosted by Mike Eiffe, Cleveland Elementary School principal, and Gerry Hudson, Superintendent of the Altmar-Parish-Williamstown Central School District, and facilitated by Kathy Fenlon.

For more information, contact the Department of Social Services at 963-5435 or e-mail [email protected]