Children’s Trust of South Carolina will celebrate 30 years of keeping youngsters safe when it holds its annual gala and benefit Saturday night at the Columbia Marriott.
The organization started 30 years ago to fund a broad range of child abuse and neglect prevention programs. Agency leaders say they expect an increase in the number of families served. Proceeds from the gala will support ongoing programs and help launch news ones.
Sue Williams, Children’s Trust chief executive officer, spoke about the progress the agency has experienced through the years and hopes for the future.
What do you feel has been one of the biggest accomplishments of Children’s Trust of South Carolina during the past 30 years?
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“We have strengthened the statewide network that keeps children safe. From providing front-line partners with training, funding and oversight to successfully advocating at the State House, we have proven that the investment in prevention works. Additionally, to create efficiencies and a unified voice for children, we merged our organization with other leading child advocacy and abuse prevention agencies – Prevent Child Abuse South Carolina and Voices for South Carolina’s Children. Shortly after, we welcomed Safe Kids South Carolina and became the KIDS COUNT grantee for our state, positioning us as South Carolina’s voice for children working to prevent child abuse, neglect and injuries.”
What progress, if any, do you feel has been made regarding the public’s awareness about the challenges facing the community with regard to child abuse?
“We have seen a shift in awareness from how to help victims of child abuse to how to prevent abuse, neglect and injury from happening in the first place. We know that abuse and other adverse childhood experiences have long-term health and societal consequences. We hear the conversation evolving to the solutions of what individuals, communities and organizations can do to prevent harm from happening.”
How, if at all, do you think recent news accounts in our state have impacted that awareness?
“It has been heartbreaking to hear about children who have been harmed or died as a result of abuse, neglect or injury. But hopefully, this has galvanized anyone in a position to make a difference and prevent tragedy from striking again. It is our goal for everyone – whether you are a neighbor, a business leader, a legislator, or someone who works directly with or for children each day – to step up and play a role in prevention. It will take all of us working together to turn recent events into opportunities to change the future for children in our state.”
What is one of the least known but important facts about child abuse?
“There is science and evidence behind how to prevent child abuse. We know there is not a single solution and that it is not the work of a single person, organization or state agency. Families and communities must come together to wrap support and protections around children. Multiple buffers and supports must be in place to help parents who might otherwise be at risk of abusing or neglecting their children. Children are safer and abuse is less likely to occur when families are financially secure, healthy and flexible. Families need friends who can help and they need skills and knowledge to keep families healthy and strong.”
Where do you feel some of the greatest work still needs to be done in protecting the well-being of children?
“Our children and their well-being need to be the center of all our public policy decisions – not only decisions about education and child protection agencies. When we talk about the state budget, transportation, new schools, job creation and economic development, the well-being of South Carolina’s children must be an integral part of the conversation.
“Our KIDS COUNT data tells us we have work to do in South Carolina around education and poverty. With education, families can lift themselves out of poverty and greatly reduce the stressors that can lead to child abuse and neglect. Education is critically important for future success and family stability. Too many of South Carolina’s children are missing important education milestones, and we believe that early childhood education is key.”
What are some things the public can look forward to at this weekend’s gala?
“Guests tell us that our evening is one of the best galas in Columbia. We have a fabulous menu, live music, and our incredible silent auction that keeps people coming back year after year to support the critical mission of keeping South Carolina’s children free from abuse, neglect and injury. This year’s silent auction has something for everyone – trips, spa treatments, tires, art, furniture, jewelry, wine and much more.”
What are some specific things the public can do to help?
“The work of keeping children safe belongs to all of us. Be a friend to a family. Help them with their everyday struggles – offer to babysit for a few hours, fix dinner or connect them with community resources. Be a safety advocate for the kids in your life. Wear your seat belt, don’t text and drive, and encourage others by your words and actions. We also support everyone to use their voice with their legislators and other elected officials. Stay up to date on what is happening at the State House and in Washington. Advocate for best practice policies and for child-centered decision making. Volunteer or make a financial commitment to us or to a local organization that work to keep children safe.”