Guest Comment: Supporting Eagle County Child Safety | Opinion

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No opportunity is ever missed for a child to feel safe and be safe in Eagle County. This is our one and only statement of what success looks like in supporting children and families in our communities.

The family is a structure. Like any structure, each of our families has great strengths but also vulnerabilities that threaten its stability. Safe living conditions for all of our children require a collective effort to help each family achieve and maintain stability. The past two years have demonstrated the value of this commitment. The pandemic is perhaps the most destabilizing event of our lives and reminds us that we can all suddenly face significant and unexpected changes that impact our families.

That’s why the Eagle County Board of Commissioners joins the nation in recognizing April as Child Abuse Prevention Month. This is an opportunity to highlight how our County Department of Human Services (DHS) is prioritizing the goal of child safety through the implementation of an Abuse Prevention Plan. children. Developed by DHS and partners in our Family Wellbeing Collaborative, this plan gives us a meaningful and actionable path to provide a positive future for all Eagle County children and their families. It is our honor as county leaders to support such a valuable initiative.

When a family is referred to child protective services, they may not be experiencing a serious crisis, but something is probably wrong. This is considered a “yellow flag” situation. Frequently, the family has had to deal with new or increasing stresses and pressures: loss of income, changes in relationships or any other unforeseen event that occurs in life. Recognizing and appropriately mustering the right mix of support and resources at yellow flag events is an opportunity to provide preemptive assistance. Getting the right support when a family reaches these points can help them get back on track and thrive, preventing further and often more serious crises.

Our human services staff seek to complement and amplify the prevention work already underway. It starts with ensuring that we have a strong capacity to identify families and children who are struggling and vulnerable. While anyone can reach out on behalf of a child or family, it is often our educators, public safety, medical and youth service providers who play an important role in starting the process of getting the support families need. The Family Wellbeing Collaborative works to equip these frontline professionals with the training and skills to confidently engage officials when help may be needed for a child or family.

Next, our plan calls for better understanding how parents and caregivers in Eagle County find information about available services and supports. Getting help, especially in times of vulnerability, should be a quick and easy process. The more our social services team and partners understand where and when families seek resources, the more effective we can be in connecting them to services.

While this is a rare outcome, we must also prioritize efforts focused on children who may need to be removed from a living situation. This is never ideal because we know children do best when they can stay with a parent or caregiver in their family. As a county, our response is focused on increasing services and resources to provide the child with stability and positive support during these traumatic events. Simultaneously, we work with family members to rebuild a safe and sustainable environment with the goal of returning a child to their family where they can thrive safely.

The well-being of our families is essential to the well-being of our communities. If you are concerned about the safety or well-being of a child or family, call 844-CO-4-Kids (844-264-5437). Help us provide the prosperous future every family deserves.

Jeanne McQueeney is an Eagle County Commissioner representing District 3.

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