School Social Workers Are Unsung Heroes

Article excerpt

"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men," wrote Frederick Douglass, the former slave and famed abolitionist. This was true when he penned it in the 1800s, and it is just as true today. How do we protect the innocence of youth? How do we keep the ills of society away from our precious children? Who is a voice for those who are most vulnerable? Are we a community that values our youths?

As a longtime volunteer for Youth First, Inc., these questions remind me to pause this week to honor school social workers for all they do to help our young people.

Twenty years ago, my family and I lived in Los Angeles. The weather was fabulous, the entertainment opportunities were huge and we were watching our small children grow up too fast.

We wanted to shield them from a toxic, selfish environment, so unlike the Beverly Hillbillies, we loaded up, moved east to Evansville and never looked back.

In California we saw too many young children who had lost their innocence. At one point, I found myself working with a young boy who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, and I saw how the "Hollywood" lifestyle takes a toll on children.

Today we call this "toxic stress," and it can be caused by a variety of issues. In a recent New York Times article, Nicholas Kristof writes: "Toxic stress might arise from parental abuse of alcohol or drugs. It could occur in a home where children are threatened and beaten. It might derive from chronic neglect, suggesting that the stress emerges when a child senses persistent threats but no protector."

My husband and I are very glad that our children were raised and educated in Evansville. However, over the years the issues we left in California traveled to this area, too. Sadly, toxic stress exists everywhere.

As a former elementary school educator, I know I often was ill- equipped to address many of the risk factors facing children. Thankfully, master's level social workers are available at area public, private and parochial schools. …

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