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Help to prevent child abuse
Beth Hortop, Contributor

The Exchange Club Center for Family Unity is celebrating 40 years this year. We are thankful and blessed for the many years of support from the community. We could not do what we do without the ongoing support from all of you.

Our mission at the Center is to educate and support families and community to prevent child abuse.

The Center provides an evidence-based parent mentor program which is free to all parents. Our mentors provide support and educational materials and curriculum to parents as they work through the program. Parents can work on improving their parenting skills and learn positive discipline techniques. We also teach lifelong skills such as budgeting, nutrition, setting and achieving goals. Many parents work on their self health too by gaining more confidence and finding their voice. This program helps strengthen family relationships while reducing the risk of abuse or neglect.

Supervised Visitation is another service provided at the Center. Supervised visits are a way to reunify a parent and child. These visits could be court ordered due to allegations of neglect or abuse. Visits may also be suggested for a parent who has been absent for a period of time. Our staff will observe the visit between the non-custodial parent and the child and document what they observe.

Safe exchanges are offered at the Center too. A safe exchange is where two parents need to exchange custody of a child but may not or cannot have contact with the other parent.

Lastly, the Center offers Parent Circle groups. This group allows parents to come together and discuss topics of concern or a topic they would like to learn more about. The Parent Circle group allows parents to meet others and build a support network. Share ideas, tips and tricks from budgeting, meal prep and how to handle behaviors. Many of the areas that are covered in our parent mentor program but now set in a group environment to discuss as a group. Occasionally a guest speaker may attend to speak about a topic of interest.

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month. We encourage everyone to support prevention programs. This year the Center is wanting to focus more on providing education and being proactive. It is proven that educating people on abuse and neglect can reduce the risk of abuse. Here are some things to try this month.

Prevent Child Abuse

1. Volunteer your time. Get involved with other parents in your community. Help

vulnerable children and their families. Start a playgroup.

2. Discipline your children thoughtfully. Never discipline your child when you are upset. Give yourself time to calm down. Remember that discipline is a way to teach your child. Use privileges to encourage good behavior and time-outs to help your child regain control.

3. Examine your behavior. Abuse is not just physical. Both words and actions can inflict deep, lasting wounds. Be a nurturing parent. Use your actions to show children and other adults that conflicts can be settled without hitting or yelling.

4. Educate yourself and others. Simple support for children and parents can be the best way to prevent child abuse. After-school activities, parent education classes, mentoring programs, and respite care are some of the many ways to keep children safe from harm. Be a voice in support of these efforts in your community.

5. Teach children their rights. When children are taught they are special and have the right to be safe, they are less likely to think abuse is their fault, and more likely to report an offender.

6. Support prevention programs. Too often, intervention occurs only after abuse is reported. Greater investments are needed in programs that have been proven to stop the abuse before it occurs - such as family counseling and home visits by nurses who provide assistance for newborns and their parents.

7. Know what child abuse is. Physical and sexual abuse clearly constitute maltreatment, but so does neglect, or the failure of parents or other caregivers to provide a child with needed food, clothing, and care. Children can also be emotionally abused when they are rejected, berated, or continuously isolated.

8. Know the signs. Unexplained injuries aren't the only signs of abuse. Depression, fear of a certain adult, difficulty trusting others or making friends, sudden changes in eating or sleeping patterns, inappropriate sexual behavior, poor hygiene, secrecy, and hostility are often signs of family problems and may indicate a child is being neglected or physically, sexually, or emotionally abused.

9. Report abuse. If you witness a child being harmed or see evidence of abuse, make a report to your state's child protective services department or local police. When talking to a child about abuse, listen carefully, assure the child that he or she did the right thing by telling an adult, and affirm that he or she is not responsible for what happened.

10. Invest in kids. Encourage leaders in the community to be supportive of children and families. Ask employers to provide family-friendly work environments. Ask your local and national lawmakers to support legislation to better protect our children and to improve their lives.

If you would like to learn ways you can support the Exchange Club Center for Family Unity, feel free to contact me at or 507-455-1190.


Beth Hortop is the executive director of the Exchange Club Center for Family Unity in Owatonna. Steele Talkin’ is a regular column featuring authors representing various organizations throughout Steele County.

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