April marks the time to recognize National Child Abuse Prevention Month and the Blue Bow Campaign. We’re highlighting a handful of sponsors and committee members to learn what the month means to them and why it’s so crucial.

Jennifer Samartano is an active, dedicated member of the Blue Bow Committee and represents Prevent Child Abuse Illinois. Jennifer shared her thoughts on this very important month:

Why is Child Abuse Prevention Month so important? Why is it so meaningful to you?

Child abuse prevention is so important all year long. But having a special month dedicated to this effort is appreciated as it is a time to bring about awareness and education highlighting the issue to the community at large. Also, having worked in direct service after the fact of children being abused, it was personally important to me to dedicate my career to preventing child abuse. As a child who was personally touched by this issue, I know how important it is that we have child abuse prevention programs in place and know firsthand how a trusted adult can help make a difference in the life of a child.

What is your approach to preventing child abuse? How are you helping to prevent it?

By providing prevention education and awareness to the issue to anyone who will listen!

What trends/changes have you seen regarding child abuse over the years? What is making a difference in moving the needle?

Prevention education makes a difference! Bringing awareness to the issue is so very important.

An example of this would be the many unfortunate child sexual abuse cases that have occurred and often fill the media outlets. For a very long time, child sexual abuse was one of those topics that people did not feel comfortable talking about. Now more and more people are being educated on the topic by learning the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse, how to responsibly report these cases and how to prevent child sexual abuse. Overall, people are feeling much more comfortable in having these sometimes very difficult conversations.

Sadly, another trend is currently happening due to the coronavirus, with the isolation of children and families during the stay-at-home order in place. There has been a dramatic drop in calls to the IL DCFS hotline. This is not due to the fact that child abuse is not occurring. Without the teachers, school social workers and other professionals charged with caring for our children, the support networks for children are missing. This is a really concerning fact when so many families are experiencing heightened stress due to this virus.

What do you want people to know about preventing child abuse?

Everyone has a role to play in preventing child abuse.

How can others help make a difference?

Others can help make a difference in many ways. If you have children, be a nurturing parent. Being a parent is not always easy and no one teaches us how to do the most important job we will ever do being a parent. Learn all you can about positive parenting and childhood development. Take care of yourself so that you don’t become overwhelmed when things get stressful. If things are stressful give yourself a time out and that it is okay to ask for help.

Offer to help to a friend, a neighbor or a relative who have children. Offer to watch their children or drop off a meal or a bag of groceries. This can go a long way in relieving the stress of parenting.

One can become an advocate for children by getting involved in community initiatives and programs that support children and families. Advocate that community leaders, schools, churches or other community programs develop or offer services that promote healthy children, families and communities.

Volunteer at a local organization that supports child abuse prevention.

Donate to a local organization that supports child abuse prevention.

Most importantly, if you suspect child abuse or neglect, please report it! You may be the only life line in getting that child and family help.

What do you do to recognize the month? What does the blue bow mean to you?

Being a professional in the field of child abuse prevention I personally and professionally do many things to recognize the month of April, child abuse prevention month as well as promote child abuse prevention throughout the year. Education is the key to preventing child abuse. I believe it was Oprah that said, “When people know better, they do better”. When providing child abuse prevention education and seeing that ‘ah ha’ moment when participants realize and understand a concept it is satisfying to know that you have contributed in some way to help make a difference. This is especially so when providing child sexual abuse prevention education. Child sexual abuse is a topic that makes most people feel uncomfortable but when participants learn how important and easy it is to have these conversations, it makes all the difference in the world.

One of my favorite ways to recognize CAP Month is the annual Art Display held at the Thompson Center each April. It is truly a collaboration of many community agencies coming together and showcasing the artwork of youth and others who care about youth and their future. Art is so therapeutic for all, especially children. The children have such a unique way of expressing their lives and experiences through their artwork.

The blue ribbon initially symbolized the bruises of child abuse and a reminder for child abuse prevention efforts. But to me, the blue bow represents the hope for all children and a future free from child abuse.

Working from home in isolation these past couple of weeks has really made it more evident the importance of collaboration and working together to prevent child abuse. Everyone and every organization represented on the Blue Bow committee in their own way helps to contribute to the prevention of child abuse. But united we are stronger in this mission. We are ‘better together’! I have always appreciated our collaborations but now under the current circumstances, I cherish it even more. Thank you Blue Bow Committee, thank you to each and every one of you for what you do!