Protecting Alabama’s Innocent, Part 1

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Parenting takes plenty of patience and lots of love, no one ever said it was easy, but it can be made even more difficult when a child has a behavioral or developmental disorder, as Roxanne Jonsey knows firsthand.

“My son has ADHD, he has trouble in school.”

Jonsey says parenting her son was overwhelming until she found The Family Guidance Center’s “Small Wonders” Program in Birmingham. Parent advocate Angela Mosely says the program is designed to help families of children with disabilities.

“The ‘Small Wonders’ program was put in place to prevent child abuse and neglect by identifying those families that are overburdened and in need of services. For example, families that may have a child that is chronically ill or may be medically fragile or developmentally disabled. Then we come in and do an intensive, in home type of intervention with the families.”

Mosely worked closely with Roxanne Jonsey and other parents like her. She teaches them to be more patient with their children, to find ways of coping with the stress of raising a child with a disability.

“You know, sometimes it just seems like you’re all in this by yourself. Nobody else has experienced anything like this, so by helping them identify their strengths is letting them know that other folks have gone through this as well and they’ve made it and we can help them in positive ways.”

Jonsey says she doesn’t know what she would have done without Mosely and the center’s help.

“I would be praying for god that we found something like this and if they’re wasn’t something like this for us, then I would have to keep looking until I found someone to help us.”

But “Small Wonders” may be forced to scale back its operations. It’s one of hundreds of non-profits that receive part of their funding from The Children’s Trust Fund — a state agency that works to prevent child abuse. The state is slashing more than 200-thousand dollars out of the agency’s budget. And Children’s Trust Fund spokesman Jim Benedict is worried it’ll be difficult to get that money back.

“Children don’t vote. They don’t have a lobby, they don’t have a voice. What’s going to happen is unless someone steps up to the plate for children in Alabama, it’s gonna be very unhealthy to be a child in Alabama.”

Democratic Senator Sundra Escott of Birimgham chairs the Children, Youth Affairs and Human Resources Committee. She could be someone to step up to the plate, although Escott isn’t sponsoring legislation to get the agency’s money back right now. Escott says the state has a terrible track record when it comes to protecting its children.

“Children are out there suffering everyday. They’re picked up everyday. And the other sad thing we don’t talk about is that kids are turned loose on the streets everyday because as they get 18 or 21 the state emancipates them and just releases them and most of them head to prison because they’ve been bumped around.”

With the economy shaky, people are losing jobs and more stress at homes means a situation ripe for child abuse. Escott says the state is setting itself up for a double whammy by cutting the child abuse prevention budget at a time when need will only increase.

“I think if we can keep a mechanism out there where we can stop the child abuse on the front end, you’re saving more money, you’re saving lives and ideally you don’t have as many children coming into the abuse system.”

The Family Guidance Center’s Angela Mosely agrees.

“If the prevention programs aren’t running, then the case numbers are going to go up, the death statistics are going to go up, it’s going to be a domino effect.”

Executive Director Marian Loftin says The Children’s Trust Fund is trying to keep that first domino from tipping over by getting back the money the state slashed from its budget.

“Hope eternal springs in this office and in all our grantees. They believe that something can happen.”

But Loftin and spokesman Jim Benedict are only guardedly optimistic.

“I hope that the legislature and the governor, I hope the people of Alabama realize that children are more than our future, they’re our greatest resource.”