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Hartselle Enquirer

State earns praise for protecting its children

How we treat the most vulnerable is important to us, and it’s an important measure of how well the state is doing. Children are at the top of the at-risk list; they cannot control their environment and are at the mercy of the adults around them.
It seems each week we hear of a story around the nation of a child who fell through the cracks. The warning signs of an abusive parent, or a problem in the neighborhood, leads to tragedy and we are left with questions. Did the family know of problems? How could the school have helped or intervened? What role should state agencies have played?
We often don’t think about children’s services until either they are needed or something happens and we see the gaps. Alabama has been working hard to improve its programs, and now there has been recent good news about the state’s readiness to protect children in times of natural disaster, as well as keeping an eye out for abuse and neglect.
A new report from the national advocacy group Save the Children praised Alabama’s standards for protecting children during national disasters. The report said that Alabama stands out among the states that were hit in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina for having a sound disaster plan.
After Katrina, thousands of children along the gulf coast were reported missing, and it took months to find them all. More than 50,000 Louisiana and Mississippi children missed school that year, and more than 15,000 students missed the next year as well. Thousands of children were diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or behavioral problems after the storm.
Alabama also suffered significant damage from Katrina, and on top of that we took in thousands of refugee families from our neighboring states. The report says that in the overwhelming majority of instances, Alabama’s social service agencies and state and local school officials handled that influx with both professionalism and compassion. We made sure our own and those who came to us for help were cared for and protected.
The children attended school, and they got the help they needed.
The report shows that Alabama meets four critical standards for protecting children during a natural disaster including plans for evacuation of children, for reuniting children with families, for evacuating special needs children at child-care facilities, and for evacuation plans at schools.
“Five years after Hurricane Katrina, it is unacceptable for states to ignore these low-cost and common-sense safeguards for kids,” said Mark Shriver, senior vice president for Save the Children’s U.S. programs. “Alabama is a national leader in protecting the most vulnerable Alabamians in the most vulnerable settings, and I hope other states will follow Alabama’s example.”
Good programs and plans are only part of protecting the most vulnerable. We all have a part in seeing that children do not suffer abuse and neglect.
The Alabama Department of Human Resources notes that while some people like teachers or doctors are required by law to report suspected abuse or neglect, everyone is encouraged to notify authorities if they suspect abuse. Certainty is not required. What is necessary is a reasonable suspicion that a child is a victim of abuse or neglect. Constant bruising and injuries, neglect in appearance and hygiene, and malnourishment are signs of abuse. The department asks that a report with local police or the local DHR office be made when these warning signs are seen.
It is important to note that abuse or neglect reports are presumed to be acting in good faith. They are, by law, immune from legal action, civil or criminal, that might otherwise be taken, an important protection for those who take the responsible action to protect a child.
It is important to protect and care for the most vulnerable among us, and it is a clear indication of whether we are on the right track. When it comes to protecting children in times of trouble, it is nice to know Alabama is doing the right things.

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