Putting a Smile on Prevention 2

Community Efforts Help Localize National Cause

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. While painful to recognize or be reminded of, there is beauty here—something every heart in the Missoula community should be proud of. The beautiful part, of course, comes with the word prevention and witnessing how our community’s efforts help make it a national movement.

It’s wince-worthy to even imagine child abuse having a home here in the lush valley, where soon-to-be flowered pathways and yards will fully wake this town from winter. Its face is blurry and misshapen, its stealth often no fault of its own. As we all know, the lines are faded between right and wrong ways to raise our children. What’s good is bad and what’s bad is good again, the good old days never quite staying put long enough for us to catch a good look.

Prevention, however, does have a face. One of them is The Parenting Place. It’s a facility that is not only devoted to children but to their parents and families as well. Their services cast a wide net to help mitigate potential harm, whether physical or mental, to our children and each other. They are, like so many family-strengthening organizations in our community, part of the village it takes to raise our children.

Gina Hegg, lead of the Missoula Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Task Force, believes that children are our greatest investment. “They are our most vulnerable citizens and depend on good guidance and safe environments so that they can thrive and grow in their families and ultimately be good community members,” she said.

Her efforts, and those of The Parenting Place among many others, can be seen and heard throughout our community. They are painting the town blue and peppering our neighborhoods and businesses with blue pinwheels for prevention to spread the awareness and show our conscious decision to seek help if or when we need it.

“It’s so important to have a ‘go-to’ facility that is geared toward positive reinforcement of teaching parenting skills and having parent aides available that come to your home. It is not intended to be a watchdog but rather a resource that builds confidence in good parenting,” said Gina.

Their mission is to prevent child abuse and neglect by strengthening families. Instead of being strictly a safe haven for children, they are an open door for anyone in need of a little help, whether it be parents’ talking with someone about their five-year-old who’s been acting up or taking advantage of The Parenting Place’s respite child care program. Needing a break or admitting that we don’t have all the answers is what helps make The Parenting Place the powerful resource that it is.

“When kids, their parents, and the community learn about healthy relationships and have resources available to support healthy choices, how could we go wrong? I want a child to always look into my eyes and know I am safe and I am a face of prevention and that I do care about them,” she said. “I hope Missoula puts a smile on prevention. If you could go upstream and clean up the water, it wouldn’t contaminate so many life forms downstream. We can do the same for children by helping parents learn about root causes of abuse, neglect, and unhealthy behaviors and how to avoid passing that downstream to the next generation.”

What’s special, perhaps, is the time we take as friends, neighbors, mothers, and fathers to look at a situation and recognize the choices we have, and to make the best possible decisions we can with the resources available to us. Whether we wear blue or anchor pinwheels in our yards, we are faces of prevention because of our positive choices and vulnerability. And maybe we have our children to thank for that, for our ability to be vulnerable and our vision to see a better world than the one we were born into.