DECATUR — Social service agencies in Macon County have banded together to target the mistreatment of children, a pervasive issue they say needs more attention — and resources.
A year after the agencies issued a call to action to prevent childhood maltreatment, the group on Thursday gathered at the Decatur Public Library to review their progress and extend an invitation to anyone who wants to help.
“We as a community need to step up and offer other solutions,” Tanya Andricks, the chief executive officer of Crossing Healthcare.
Macon County has the second-highest rate in the state of Illinois of childhood maltreatment, according to the most recent 2015 data from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
In 2017, 286 children were put under the supervision of the Macon County court system for child abuse, Steve Miller, of Macon County Court Appointed Special Advocates, has said. That's 87 more children than in 2016.
After a year of research, agency leaders said Thursday that they want to begin implementing their ideas, including more community outreach and education for parents and caregivers. But one problem they identified was a lack of state funding and community support.
Because so many resources are needed to address and treat abuse that is already occurring, agencies sometimes struggle to perform prevention work, Andricks said. This is one of the areas that is a focus of the committee's research, she said.
The group is ready to implement a few initiatives, the first of which will start in June. Through funding from the Decatur Memorial Foundation, they bought books to distribute to all new mothers and families at the local hospitals.
The books are called “Calm Baby Gently” and “Sleep Baby Safe and Snug.” They were written by Dr. John Hutton and illustrated by Leah Busch. Cindy Bardeleben, director of local programming at Baby TALK, said the books are planned to help parents if they are in a crisis situation or feeling overwhelmed.
The books give tips to calm babies and provide information on appropriate sleeping positions, aiming to prevent sudden infant death syndrome and shaken baby syndrome. The books also offer tips and information for services, including a 211 card, so parents can have the information handy.
Reading books is one way to encourage healthy relationships from the beginning of a child's life, Bardeleben said.
To help mothers and loved ones suffering from postpartum depression, a new group will be offered at the Decatur Public Library starting Wednesday. Participants can come together and share their experiences, said Karla Thornton, a minister at HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital. Thornton estimated that more than 300 women in Decatur suffer from postpartum depression.
The group will meet at noon on the first Wednesday of each month and 6 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month. Anyone is welcome to attend.
“Our group is only as good as the people who know it is there,” Thornton said.
Christine Gregory, executive director of Dove Inc., said that there is a long way to go to improve the problem of child maltreatment in Decatur. She said there are many resources and assets in existence that she hopes people will use if they need help.
Gregory also hopes other people who are interested in helping improve childhood maltreatment will join the committees and help make a meaningful change.