Anoka County continues taking steps to end child abuse

Before he was even old enough to sit up on his own, baby Rylan had been hit by his mom’s boyfriend on more than one occasion.

The worst of it came when Rylan was just 7 months old and the man hit him so hard he was knocked unconscious, suffered a stroke, a seizure and a brain bleed.

Rylan survived that abuse and is now a 6-year-old kindergartner, living with an adoptive family in St. Francis. His life is full and Rylan is safe and happy and growing stronger every day.

However, permanent damage caused by that abuse affects him every day, too. And the effects of that abuse affect not just Rylan’s life, but the lives of those around him.

His adoptive sisteris determined to do anything she can to prevent other children from abuse.

“My little brother’s a great kid. He’s so sweet and so much fun, and he never deserved what he got from that man. I want to make sure no one else ever gets hurt like Rylan did,” Tisha Beseke said, describing her outrage at the attacks her adoptive brother endured during the earliest months of his life.

One way Beseke is helping to prevent child abuse is by volunteering on the Anoka County Child Abuse Prevention Council, an action team of the Alliance for a Violence-Free Anoka County.

Violence Prevention Coordinator Donna McDonald said the team has been in existence for more than a dozen years and has worked tirelessly to prevent child abuse in the county.

“Child abuse is prevalent in our society and our goal is to help people understand, to educate the public on positive parenting, understanding child development and creating a healthy environment,” she said.

“Too often, the general public is unsure about what constitutes child abuse, how abused and neglected children and their families can be helped, and what we, as individuals, can and should do about it.”

Therefore, McDonald said, another mission of the council is to help people understand how to recognize child abuse, how to report it and to know that reporting doesn’t disrupt families, it helps families, she said.

Jess VanKuyk, child protection supervisor with Anoka County Social Services, describes what happens when someone calls Child Protection Services (763-422-7125) with a report of suspected child abuse.

When the call is made, she said, there is criteria used to determine if the family needs to be screened. If a screening is needed, a family assessment is done to determine what is needed to keep the child safe. Then, an investigation may be conducted to determine if there is a maltreatment finding.

“Screeners can offer community services, social services – whatever is needed. Don’t hesitate to call Child Protection Services,” VanKuyk said.

And “it just takes one,” child abuse prevention advocates will say.

All it takes is one person to make one phone call when something doesn’t look right, one person to stand up and say something, one parent or one other trusted adult to help children learn safety strategies.

Council members urge families to practice family safety nights twice each year. During those nights, parents can talk to their children about safety tips like wearing a bike helmet, wearing a seatbelt and also talk about personal safety, body safety and online safety.

Council members tell parents to present personal safety tips as automatically as they would present other safety tips.

“The number one tool to prevent child abuse is caring and connected adults,” said Goody Vokovan, who has served on the Anoka County Child Abuse Prevention Council for more than 10 years.

Other council members include members of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, the Anoka County Community Health Department, HeadStart, local business owners, teachers and community members.

“Everybody on the council has a passion about protecting children, making a safe place for children to live and play and grow. And we are one of the more active (child abuse prevention) councils in the state,” McDonald said.

The council’s efforts to educate the public on child abuse include community events, workshops, conferences, and hand-outs that provide education on identifying and preventing child abuse.

And those efforts continue throughout the year.

To learn more about Anoka County Child Abuse Prevention Council efforts, contact Violence Prevention Coordinator Donna McDonald at 763-422-7047 or donna.mcdonald@co.anoka.mn.us or visit ViolenceFreeAnokaCounty.org and click on “Anoka County Child Abuse Prevention Council.”

To view a five-segment video that provides insight on child abuse prevention/services in Anoka County and other valuable information, visit AnokaCounty.us, scroll down and click on “IT JUST TAKES ONE: What’s happening in child abuse prevention in Anoka County.”

For more about family safety strategies visit the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center at jwrc.org.

Sue Austreng is at sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

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