The Washington County Board of Commissioners endorsed the President of the United States’ proclamation that April 2021 is Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month at its meeting on March 23.

The board also received the Washington County Child Protection Citizen Review Panel 2020 Annual Report.

Each year in April, the President of the United States issues a proclamation to announce National Child Abuse Prevention Month. States and local governments are encouraged to support such proclamations to encourage public awareness of child abuse and neglect, recommit state and local resources to the cause, and promote community involvement through state and local activities.

National Child Abuse Prevention Month is a time to acknowledge the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse and neglect, and to promote the social and emotional well-being of children and families, according to a press release from the county. During April, and throughout the year, Washington County encourages all individuals and organizations to play a role in making Washington County a better place for children and families. Ensuring that parents have the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to care for their children can help prevent child abuse and neglect by creating strong and thriving children, youth, and families in the community.

Research shows that protective factors are present in healthy families. Promoting these factors is among the most effective ways to reduce the risk of child abuse and neglect. The factors are: nurturing and attachment; knowledge of parenting and of child and youth development; parental resilience; social connections; concrete supports for parents along with social and emotional competence of children.

The County Board endorsed the observance of National Child Abuse Prevention during April 2021 and thanked and honored county employees who work every day to help parents and families counter the problem of child maltreatment and abuse.

The board also accepted the annual Citizen Review Panel report. The State of Minnesota has a federal mandate to operate Citizen Review Panels for child protection. Counties are not mandated but are encouraged to participate in a CRP. There are five other Minnesota counties, in addition to Washington County, that host a CRP. The mission of the CRP is “Citizens partnering with child protection services, advocating to keep children safe.”

Each year, an annual report is compiled to highlight activities and projects that the CRP has completed over the past year.

The panel is charged with evaluating the effectiveness of the county’s child protection services and enhancing the quality of those services whenever possible county. The panel offers recommendations regarding changes in the child protection system to both the county and the state.

According to the report, identified issues of concern changed dramatically with the onset of the pandemic. COVID-19 put children more at risk for abuse and exploitation.

Teachers are generally on the front lines of spotting abuse, but with schools closed, mandated reporters can’t monitor at-risk children easily because of the limitations of distance learning. The panel changed its project plans to focus on ways to educate the community, including supporting at-risk families during the pandemic, identifying child abuse, reporting child abuse, and requesting assistance from the community. Several sub-groups of the panel coordinated projects throughout the year via email and virtual meetings.

The report includes information on training for panel members, as well as community outreach projects that continued despite the pandemic, such as continued online training and sharing informational pamphlets through food shelves and any public places that allowed distribution.

Additional projects have been put on hold until the loosening of pandemic restrictions allow for more in-person meetings and communications.

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