April is recognized as Child Abuse Prevention Month, but the work to ensure child safety lasts all year. The Idaho Children’s Trust Fund, an organization operating under the Department of Health and Welfare, works to bring awareness and education on child abuse prevention in the local area.
As part of an internship with her graduate school program, Keri Nemeroff ran an event on campus in April that included guest speakers and games in an effort to bring awareness to other students in her program.
“These are all fields where people are eventually going to be working directly with children,” Nemeroff said. “People are focused on the ground level of what’s happening in front of them. People don’t really understand what are ways we can prevent these issues from happening in the first place.”
As part of their work at The Idaho’s Children’s Trust Fund, Nemeroff and executive director Roger Sherman, put emphasis on preventative measures, ensuring that strong family and community systems are in place for children in Idaho.
“Everybody has a role in this work. It isn’t just the social workers,” Sherman said. “I think what Keri did in organizing this student event is that we really want people at the earliest stage to recognize the role they play.”
This advocacy focuses on three initiatives: strengthening families, shaken baby syndrome and child sexual abuse prevention. While Nemeroff’s event was catered towards those planning to work in environments with children, she believes all types of students can benefit from being educated on these initiatives.
“Everyone needs to know how to talk about child sexual abuse. Nobody wants to talk about it and it’s such a niche, scary topic,” Nemeroff said. “But if we can break the stigma around some of these big issues it can prevent it from ever happening.”
Ivy Smith works for Idaho Voices for Children as a policy specialist and spoke as a guest speaker at Nemeroff’s campus event. Her presentation, in collaboration with outreach specialist Terrell Couch, also from Idaho Voices for Children, focused on the foster care system. As a former foster youth, Smith advocates for the youth to be heard and considered when it comes to policy change.
“I think the youth voice is so important. There’s a slogan that a lot of foster youth communities use and it’s ‘Nothing about us without us,’” Smith said. “It really just highlights that there should always be room at the table for youth that have been in the foster care system.”
For her undergraduate Capstone project in 2021, Smith wanted to find out what happened to foster youth who have aged out of the system, meaning they hadn’t been adopted by age 18. Smith found that only 50% of foster youth graduated high school and of that, 3% would enroll in college, resulting in about 1% graduating college. Smith became frustrated that more action was not taken and decided to take those steps herself. She drafted a bill, and with the help of Idaho Voices for Children, got the bill unanimously passed. House Bill 336 allows for the expansion of foster care through the age of 21. Foster youth choose whether or not to participate in these services that would provide them with an extra few years of financial support.
“We’ve got around 15 to 19 kids in the state right now utilizing it. Unfortunately, right now we’re facing this hurdle of a lot of kids out there that don’t know about it,” Smith said. “It was so rewarding to see this come about and it’s probably not a huge number, but to me, it just means the world that it’s 15 to 19 kids that didn’t have to work so hard just to survive.”
Smith shared that for students who want to be involved, a potential way to help is through another organization in Idaho called Family Advocates.
Family Advocates is a joint organization alongside Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), and volunteers for this program are called “Guardians ad Litem.” The role of volunteers is to advocate on behalf of youth who are placed in courts that are unaware of the judicial system, and therefore unable to speak for themselves.
“They are really just looking for people to be a voice for these young kids who don’t know how to advocate for themselves yet,” Smith said. “It’s about building that trust and having the time and space to get to know these kids and try to understand what their wants and needs are.”
Looking to the future, Smith shared that her hope is that placing kids into the foster care system would be a last resort. Similarly, Nemeroff and Sherman’s long-term goal is to rely less on services that take children out of their homes, which can result in more trauma.
“In some ways, that is really the goal, right?” Sherman said. “It’s that we don’t need to be providing child protection services because we have families and communities that are thriving and can support the children.”
The preventative measures such as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that The Idaho Children’s Trust Fund are advocating for are what Smith wants to see continue in the future. The experiences that create traumas dealt with during childhood can have a lasting impact. Preventing this is done by introducing positive effects.
“For me specifically, what really worked well was finding ways to connect to my community,” Smith said. “For others, it’s about finding that trusted adult and making those connections that can actually help reverse these effects. Even though they’ve experienced a lot of this trauma, by having these positive effects in their lives they’re essentially able to build their resilience and their grit.”
More information about getting involved can be found on The Idaho Children’s Trust Fund and Family Advocates’ websites.