It’s an ambitious goal by any standard, but one University organization is aiming to reduce child abuse and neglect in Lane County 90 percent in 19 years. The 90 By 30 project is a community outreach program coordinated in part by professors and students that gained momentum after an open forum Feb. 5.
“Part of what we must do is raise awareness,” said counseling psychology and human services professor Jeff Todahl, a member of the organization’s steering committee.
The Feb. 5 event helped shape one of Todahl’s courses during spring term. He took 90 By 30’s core mission and asked his students how the organization might attain its goal. Students came up with a set of criteria that led to child abuse and neglect.
One of the main causes of child abuse and neglect the class agreed on was a sense of disassociation between neighbors.
“If we’re disconnected from our neighbors, we’ll be unable to provide support,” Todahl said. “We need our community to achieve our mission.”
University senior Megan Benevento took Todahl’s class for various reasons. Not only is it required for her major, but as a victim of neglect herself, Benevento had an interest in the causes and prevention of child abuse.
She says a factor that contributes to the problem is that people don’t feel a need to intervene when they believe others are making choices that affect their children negatively.
“Changing that paradigm is one of the most difficult steps but one of the most key steps,” Benevento said. “If there’s violence in your life it’s everyone’s business.”
In a study done by Oregon Department of Human Services Administrator Lois Day for the state, 50 percent of cases were under threat of harm, which meant they were at high risk of continued abuse or neglect.
It was also found that the majority of victims — 48 percent — in 2009 were under 6.
The Department of Human Services’ findings contributed to the discussions in Todahl’s class. Students found that stressors, such as a lack of resources due to low income, were a factor in cases of abuse and neglect.
“Poverty is not the cause of child abuse,” Day told attendees of the Feb. 5 event. “But it is the single best indicator.”
Awareness and education are the leading solutions participants in the 90 By 30 program are offering in order to attain their goal. And one of the keys there is community.
“In some ways it’s about re-thinking, ‘What does it mean to love our neighbors?’ ” Todahl said. “In the end, it’s about that.”
Although the task of reducing child abuse and neglect by 90 percent in less than two decades may seem daunting, program participants are optimistic about its prospects.
“I totally think it’s attainable,” Benevento said.
Those interested in the program can contact Todahl at 541-346-0919.