Angels In St. Petersburg: Preventing Child Abuse

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and communities and agencies across the country are stepping up their efforts to raise awareness about child neglect and abuse. Grandparents often come forward to provide support for the more than 3.5 million children reported in the U.S. each year as victims of abuse or neglect. But all of us can do more.

Angels Against Abuse, Inc., based in St. Petersburg, Florida, is making a dramatic transition to supercharge its role in the fight against child abuse. Countless children and families each year fail to receive help readily available to them because of a confusing web of services and red tape. Angels Against Abuse is exclusive when it comes to responding immediately when a child or family is in need.

The mission of Angels Against Abuse, Inc., is to build awareness and educate the community with regard to existing neglect and abuse against children; to provide support, monetarily and through hands-on volunteer hours, to neglected and abused children who are removed from an abusive situation and to those children and families who are at risk of losing their children because of such situations.

One of the Angels’ main goals is to bring together all resources available from government agencies, courts and child welfare services in the fastest possible manner, giving those families the chance to achieve the best possible outcome whether it be family reunification or foster care and adoption.

In some cases it’s as easy as pointing people in the right direction and making sure that they get there. As easy as it sounds, it makes the difference between the family’s success and failure in navigating our child welfare system. We are making a real difference in the lives of many children who are unfortunate victims of abuse, by improving the connection between them and the systems that are in place to assist them.

Before I introduce myself, I would first like to thank Christine Crosby for giving me an opportunity to not only tell you about our team of Angels but also to reach out to fellow grandparents everywhere. I am honored to tell you a little about my personal journey of grandparenting.

My name is Sandy Kearney, President of Angels Against Abuse, Inc., a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. Our team of Angels advocate for children in the child welfare system 24/7, and we are making a difference in their lives every day. Our journey began approximately four years ago with just four individuals. We are now a group of 80 amazing individuals from all walks of life, giving back to our community. It is amazing what we have accomplished when it comes to children who have suffered abuse and neglect.

The Angels are known as the “quick responders” in the community and have the proven ability to “make it happen” without delay when it comes to a child’s needs. We accomplish this through our Angels Helping Hands Program, which directly benefits the child or youth with their immediate needs.

In an effort to learn as much as I could about how the child welfare system works, I felt it was imperative to gain as much knowledge and experience as possible to be the best leader I could be for our team. I became a Guardian Ad Litem so I could directly advocate for children through the courts and build a rapport with the children I represented in hopes of changing their lives and making them aware that there were Angels watching out for them!

During this process, it was evident that building good relationships with the lead agencies and various resources in the community would be a great benefit to our mission of helping the children. Establishing and developing these positive and constructive relationships is how we grew and spread our wings further. It is really how we became known as the “connectors” and the “quick responders” within the child welfare system and the community in general.

Since the Angels do not receive any government funding, we rely solely on our fundraising events to sustain our ability to assist with the various needs that arise. The Angels host two fundraisers annually: Our largest is the Blue Ribbon Gala, which is always held in April to honor National Child Abuse Awareness Month, and our most recent addition is the Family Fashion Show, which debuted in November 2010.

The Family Fashion Show was such a success, we plan on making this an annual event as well, and it will be held in November to kick off the holiday season. The proceeds from both these fundraisers go to our Angel Helping Hands Program, which allows us to quickly respond to requests we receive to assist with the needs of a child or youth in the welfare system. This year the Blue Ribbon Gala will be held Saturday, April 16, 2011, at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront hotel, located in downtown St. Petersburg. You can visit our website to find out more information about both of these events: www.angelsagainstchildabuse.com.

In addition to our Helping Hands Program, we are very excited about a program we recently launched known as the Angel Resource Center. This program is designed to be a hands-on program to help families accomplish, in a timely fashion, the case plan given to them by the courts and the system in order to be reunified with their children. The longer it takes to complete their case plan, the longer the children remain in foster care.

Months turn into years and children can be moved from home to home numerous times during this process. As you can imagine, each move is traumatic. This languishing in the system occurs because of a disconnect between the families and the available resources. The Angels add that connection and personal touch to help direct the families through the maze of the system, track their progress and report it to the appropriate agencies. The information compiled by tracking the development of the case plan will then be used in the courtroom proceedings to demonstrate accountability and streamline the entire process.

Thanks to a recent grant received from the White Family Foundation, we have developed a software program that will track the progress of the families and will work hand in hand with the state database so all parties involved in a particular case will review the same information when it comes to the child or children being represented, as well as the progress of the parents. The program directly benefits the child, since the objective is to move them through and out of the system as quickly as possible and provide them with the stability they need in their lives.

We are extremely proud of our accomplishments in the community and our ability to connect resources to children and their families throughout the community. Another way we have accomplished this is through our Child Advocacy Expo, which we host every year in December. This Expo connects the child welfare agencies and organizations providing services to the children and families and offers the ability to learn more about one another.

Our third annual Expo will be held in December, 2011, and we understand every agency in the community is anxious to participate. This has been a very exciting undertaking for the Angels, as we pride ourselves in being the “connectors” in the community allowing us all to better serve the children and the community.

Get Involved!
As President, it has been my dream to have every person in our community become an Angel! It is so easy and so rewarding! We invite everyone reading this article to become members by filling out an application online at www.AngelsAgainstChildAbuse.com.

For $25, you are part of a team that is changing the lives of children and youth in the child welfare system. You are included in our monthly meetings; but for those who cannot attend the meetings, we understand because attendance is not required. You become part of our infamous email blast keeping you in the loop of what is happening, though, I must tell you, the meetings are extremely informative and enjoyable.

All who attend walk away energized and glad they were there! So, when you can make it, it is definitely a worthwhile experience. You can never have too many angels, and when you are advocating for a child, you are already an angel!

The Joys and the Heartbreaks of Being Grand
Now, I would like to shift gears for just a moment and put on my “grandma” hat, which is the one I cherish above all else. When I became a mom, I couldn’t imagine anything better than being a parent…well, until I became a grandparent!

Grandparents have so much to offer their grandchildren; it is like an interactive history lesson. They are the influencers, stabilizers and the constant in a family for the children. They give with no conditions, no strings. They give just because the love they have for that grandchild is so precious and so fragile.

Personally, I have seven grandchildren and fortunately, I was one of the blessed children to have had an amazing mom and dad, and amazing grandparents. There are five generations of us, thanks to my only living grandma, who is 97 years old. To this day, I treat our relationship with absolute respect because her time is now short; but I have 61 amazing years of memories spent with her.

Unfortunately, these precious relationships are not treated the same in today’s world. The respect and the importance of us grandparents have disappeared. Grandparents have become to be viewed as stand-ins on an as-needed basis. When the need arises or a crisis occurs, we are called upon to lend a hand. Everything seems to be on our children’s terms and conditions, with little or no thought given to how the grandparent or the grandchild feels.

The world is moving so fast it seems that no one today wants to take the time to know about the journey of their grandparents. This is true even when there are so many grandparents raising their grandchildren today. In fact, the number is staggering.

In particular, the number of grandparents in the welfare system who have stepped in on behalf of their grandchildren is amazing to comprehend. These grandparents have reached the time in their life to sit back and relax; but due to their children’s bad choices, they are faced with the challenge of starting all over again by having to take on the parents’ role.

Once these parents get their children back, the grandparents are dismissed with no remorse and sometimes even lose the relationship with their grandchildren completely until the next crisis, if at all! Then, there are those parents who have rules and conditions with which the grandparents must comply in order to have a relationship with their grandchildren. The grandchildren are used as bargaining chips to accomplish the parents’ goal.

Unfortunately, there is little to no consideration given to the lasting effects this roller coaster relationship has on the children and us as grandparents! It has become so easy for today’s generation to throw away relationships without even a thought because they don’t take the time to think about the consequences of their actions.

To sum it up, grandparents have no rights! If you don’t meet specific legal criteria, there is no legal action you can take in order to have a relationship with your grandchildren. If you do meet the criteria and choose to battle in court, nobody wins anyway and the pain is by far bigger than the gain may be!

So what do we do? We can join voices and make ourselves heard! We need to do this not only for ourselves but also for our grandchildren. As our grandchildren grow and if they have not had that special bond with us or it was selfishly taken away, it is my hope as the years pass, an article just like this will cross their path, telling a story mirroring their life and the loss of that incredible relationship, and they will begin to understand that as their grandparent, it wasn’t our choice.

If we don’t take on this challenge to make a difference, then for generations our grandchildren will be deprived of a love like no other! We can make that difference, because building awareness and letting our voices be heard is the key to change! Use every resource available to you to be heard. I am starting today because my granddaughter means that much to me and she has been ripped from my life after three wonderful years and the pain is unbearable.

I am grieving the death of a relationship and a bond that was so special. So please join me in this campaign for the rights of grandparents when it comes to our relationship with our precious grandchildren!

Sandy Kearney is president of Angels Against Abuse, Inc., a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.

The Blue Ribbon story
The blue ribbon is a national symbol of child abuse awareness that originated in Norfolk, Virginia, in the spring of 1989. Bonnie Finney, a grandmother whose 3-year-old grandson died at the hands of his mother’s abusive boyfriend, tied a blue ribbon to her van as a symbol of her personal commitment to involve everyone in the effort to prevent child abuse.

Bonnie’s grandson, Michael Wayne “Bubba” Dickenson, was a tragic young victim, and his death gave Bonnie the strength to encourage others to help in the fight against child abuse and neglect. Wear a blue ribbon every day in April to promote awareness of the need for child abuse prevention in our communities.

A Granddaughter’s Blessing for 61 Years…My Grandma
I was blessed to be with grandma right to the end
I prayed with her and held her until her eyes became dim.
Our journey together has been a special one
So many memories, I’ll cherish each one.
Grandma was unique and strong as can be
She had many traits that will live inside of me.
I’ll miss you Grandma more than words can say
But God has your hand and is leading the way.
So as you walk through the gates of God’s embrace
Please know the peace and joy that’s on my face.
So goodbye Grandma and thank you so much
For all those years of a grandma’s touch.
I Love You Grandma
Thank You for the blessing of being my grandma for 61 years.
- Sandy Kearney

Resources
Angels Against Abuse, Inc.
http://www.angelsagainstchildabuse.com/resources.asp

Childwelfare.gov

Children’s Bureau Child Abuse & Neglect Research
National statistics on child abuse and neglect

All of the below are from www.childhelp.org

Center for Effective Parenting
Provides helpful parenting information.

Child Care Aware
Committed to helping parents find the best information on locating quality child care and child care resources in their community.

Child Trends Data Bank
Source for the latest national trends and research on over 100 key indicators of child and youth well-being.

Child Welfare Information Gateway
Child Welfare Information Gateway connects professionals and concerned citizens to timely, essential information and resources targeted to the safety, permanency, and well-being of children and families.

Child Welfare League of America
Child Welfare League of America National Data Analysis System CWLA, in cooperation with the nation’s state child welfare agencies, provides a comprehensive, interactive child welfare database. Internet users can create customized tables and graphs, as well as access to information on child abuse.

Children Now
Information on child abuse and on making children the top public policy priority.

Children’s Action Alliance
Helps promote the well-being of children and their families through research, policy development, media campaigns and advocacy.

Children’s Defense Fund
Mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral Start in life.

Circle of Parents
Network of parent-led self-help groups where parents and caregivers can share ideas, celebrate successes, and address the challenges surrounding parenting.

Focus Adolescent Services
Resources on Teen and Family Issues. Topics include anger and violence; self injury such as carving, branding and marking; and abuse.

New Parents Network
Articles and information on child abuse and other topics for new parents.

Parents Anonymous
The nation’s oldest for information on child abuse prevention.

Prevent Child Abuse America
Dedicated to providing information on child abuse and inspiring hope to everyone involved in the effort to prevent the abuse and neglect of children.

Stand for Children
Advocate for improvements to and funding for programs that give every child a fair chance in life.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau
Government site featuring information on child abuse, statistics, and resources related to child welfare.

SANDY KEARNEY

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