By Darian Young, FireLodge Children & Family Services Family Preservation Coordinator

All children deserve happy and healthy childhoods. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and FireLodge Children & Family Services is working passionately to show the community that abuse and neglect are happening, while also highlighting that we can prevent and protect additional children from such a future.

To raise awareness locally, FireLodge Children & Family services placed a pinwheel garden outside Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s administration building. The pinwheel garden demonstrates the happy and healthy childhood all children deserve.

In addition to local efforts to spread awareness, FireLodge desires to inform Potawatomi families and friends about protective factors. When present, protective factors in a child’s life may lessen the probability of abuse or neglect and can also allow families to thrive on their own.

The Center for the Study of Social Policy’s Strengthening Families Approach program describes five main protective factors: parental resilience, social connections, concrete support in times of need, knowledge of parenting and child development, and social and emotional competence of children.

Parental resilience

An interesting characteristic that can help buffer families from stressful situations becoming disastrous is parental resilience. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.” A parent with resilience is not a parent who does not face problems or pain, but is a parent who trudges through challenges with a mindset that is hopeful and persistent.

Social connections

Having direct avenues of support protects families by allowing parents a safety net made up of people or groups to turn to with questions, for advice or with assistance. Connections act as a buffer for families when struggles come their way. Furthermore, being a part of something bigger than oneself helps individuals realize they are important and have a role to fulfill. The thought, “My family/job/team/church/neighbors/friends/etc. will miss me if I don’t show up or play my part,” can significantly motivate individuals to keep moving forward and persisting.

Concrete support in times of need

Families with the basics, including adequate food, shelter, health care and clothing, are sometimes all that is missing between a family successfully making it on their own or being subject to failure. In addition, community services, such as behavioral health, domestic violence programs, substance abuse programs, and after school programs/childcare, provide families useful and specific support during crises.

Knowledge of parenting and child development

Having the tools to respond properly to children’s needs and having accurate expectations of a child’s developmental stage greatly impacts parents’ abilities to care for their children. Community resources such as parenting classes can be helpful in providing families those necessary tools, but so can positive parenting strategies that are passed down through generations. Negative parenting skills are passed down as well. For example, if an individual grew up receiving beatings as discipline, that can become that person’s “normal” and is then often passed down and used on the next generation of children. Stopping generational child abuse and neglect is monumental in putting an end to it overall.

Social and emotional competence of children

Similar to the knowledge of parenting and child development, the social and emotional competence of children starts with the skills of the parents. If parents can properly model how to express and manage emotions in a healthy way, such as anger, sadness or self-control, it is then likely that children will also learn those skills. It is also important for children to know how to interact in a positive way with peers. If children are not given the tools for healthy emotional or social expression, the parent-child relationship can suffer, which can increase the odds of child abuse/neglect occurring.

As a community member, FireLodge challenges you to look out for the families around you and help promote protective factors however possible. Be it making a connection with a fellow parent who might need the support or sharing resources for tangible needs such as local food pantries, you can make a difference in a child’s life.

If you would like to receive more information on practical parenting skills or if you are a Native American family at risk of child abuse or neglect, please give FireLodge Children & Family Services a call today at 405-878-4831, or visit us online at