UCCS, CU School of Medicine team up on program to prevent child abuse and neglect

April 4, 2014 Updated: April 4, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Gary Melton wants child protection to become a way of life for residents living in a region that logs thousands of child abuse reports each year.

"The real need is to ensure people have help when they need it, in a form they can use," said Melton, a University of Colorado School of Medicine professor of pediatrics.

His push to instill that communitywide instinct began Friday.

The CU School of Medicine announced a program aimed at strengthening the bonds of Colorado Springs residents, with the hope that doing so will cut down on child abuse rates. The program, called Strong Communities for Children, will operate as a partnership between the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the school of medicine.

The goal is to foster a shift in the community's approach to parenting and preventing child abuse and neglect - a shift facilitated by the university's students and staff.

Melton spearheaded a similar program several years ago in Greenville, S.C. by pulling together myriad organizations, businesses, neighborhood associations and hundreds of churches.

"Essentially, it's working with each institution ... in terms of thinking about how that setting can be made to be a stronger source of support for families with young children," said Melton, who is also with the Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect in Aurora.

The Greenville program boasted 6,000 volunteers, many of whom helped out with small, family-oriented events hosted by local churches, nonprofits and fire stations. For example, some organizations hosted financial and career counseling classes, family advocate chat sessions and "parents' night out" events. Other agencies facilitated outreach efforts to educate parents about child abuse prevention.

The program proved valuable, he said.

Founded cases of child abuse among children ages 4 and younger fell dramatically from 2005 to 2008 in the area he targeted, as did emergency room visits and hospitalizations in cases of neglect, he said.

Melton organized the Greenville initiative by employing a small number of outreach workers who helped facilitate the events. In Colorado Springs, he expects UCCS to begin implementing the initiative by heavily engaging students and staff.

The exact plan for Colorado Springs remains to be seen. Organizers plan to spend the next six to nine months engaging local churches, nonprofits and businesses on how best to proceed.

"This is a broad thing that I hope becomes part of the fabric of the university," said Mary Coussons-Read, the university's provost. "It's just the beginning, and it's a learning process for all of us."

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