The death of four-year-old Zion McKeown on Maui is a tragedy that should never have happened. His passing diminishes us all. Sadly, Zion will be counted among the five children per day that are killed as a result of child abuse and neglect in the United States.

In fact it’s likely that most of us know a child that has been abused—over 80 percent of residents surveyed in Hawai‘i stated they know a survivor of child abuse. In 2010, the Department of Human Services received 4,199 reports of child abuse: Zion is not the only one.

Many of you, like us, may have been devastated by the news surrounding Zion’s death. Ironically, when we learned about this heartbreaking situation on Maui, we were having a conversation about how to get the community more involved in helping to prevent child abuse and neglect. As difficult as it was to learn about the circumstances surrounding Zion’s passing, we resolved to not let the pain of his passing deter us from our vision of a Hawai‘i where children are safe and able to life happy, healthy lives. Let’s turn our grief into action.

You can join us in making a difference in the lives of keiki in Hawai‘i. The well-being of children is a community concern, not solely the responsibility of the state. Studies show that parents with a strong support network are less likely to abuse their children. All of us can reach out to parents and caregivers to help them create a nurturing environment for keiki – we don’t need to know if abuse is happening. Simply strengthening our connections with each other builds one strong ‘ohana in Hawai‘i.

The Hawai‘i Children’s Trust Fund and the Joyful Heart Foundation have partnered together to develop the One Strong ‘Ohana campaign—the most comprehensive statewide child abuse and neglect public awareness campaign in Hawai‘i’s history. One Strong ‘Ohana invites all of us to join together to prevent child abuse by strengthening families through hopeful and affirming actions of building connections with one another.

The campaign is based on what are known as protective factors. You may have heard of risk factors that can increase the likelihood of abuse and neglect, but there are also protective factors—conditions in families and communities that, when present, can increase the health and wellbeing of children and families thus lowering incidents of child abuse and neglect. This campaign seeks to teach the public that child maltreatment is preventable, and shows how to use protective factors to help parents identify and build on their own strengths, empowering them to enhance their parenting capacity.

The campaign message is simple: “There are many simple things you can do to prevent child abuse and neglect.” And there really are countless ways you can reach out to a parent or caregiver in big or small ways to offer support:

  • Offer to pick up groceries one week.
  • Offer to run an errand or pick up their kids from school or practice.
  • Get together for a play date so you can share the responsibility of minding the kids.
  • Offer to watch the kids for an hour or two while they take a little time for themselves.
  • Go to the gym together.
  • Set-up weekly walks for the whole family.
  • Offer to cook a meal or just bring one by.
  • Simply reach out and ask how they are doing.

Let them know you are there for them and understand their challenges.
 
Some of these actions may seem small, but they’re proven to make a difference.

To date, over $1 million dollars have been invested by a variety of partners in One Strong ‘Ohana— along with the Hawai‘i Children’s Trust Fund, including Hawaii News Now, Cox Radio Group, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Midweek, Jamba Juice, Whole Foods Market, Fun Factory and Zippy’s. The most important investment, however, is when each and every one of gives our time and attention to strengthening the networks around parents and caregivers. This campaign demonstrates the value of a community that comes together to support families and devote attention, resources and compassion to meeting the needs and healing the suffering of its members.

Let’s not let this happen again. Reach out to parents and caregivers, ask them how they are, or offer to cook a meal—there are many simple things all of us can do. Zion’s passing can galvanize us to strengthen our ‘ohana throughout the state and to protect our keiki. Learn more about how you can help strengthen families or the signs of child abuse at http://www.OneStrongOhana.com.


About the authors: Marty Oliphant is the Executive Director of the National Association of Social Workers, Hawai‘i Chapter. He serves as the Chair for the Advisory Committee to the Hawai‘i Children’s Trust Fund. He was the Director for the Children’s Justice Center of Oahu for two and half years. He worked with Child Welfare Services as an investigator of child abuse and neglect cases for two years. Marty has worked in prevention programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters (Honolulu & Maui) and YMCA of Honolulu. Marty actively participates in community capacity building and volunteer service as a way of giving back to the community.

Kata Issari is the Joyful Heart Foundation’s first Hawai‘i regional director. In her position, Issari plays an integral role in leading the organization’s growth locally and dissemination of innovative, statewide programs to serve island residents. She also works to fulfill the Joyful Heart Foundation’s mission to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.

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About the Authors

  • Kata Issari
    Kata Issari is the Joyful Heart Foundation’s first Hawai‘i regional director. In her position, Issari plays an integral role in leading the organization’s growth locally and dissemination of innovative, statewide programs to serve island residents. She also works to fulfill the Joyful Heart Foundation’s mission to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse Prior to joining Joyful Heart Foundation Issari was the program director at Parents And Children Together’s Family Peace Center for 12 years where she managed one of the few comprehensive domestic violence programs in the country that provides services for survivors, perpetrators and children as well as community education and training. She also served as a lecturer at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa and has collaborated with UH faculty on research projects involving children and domestic violence.
  • Marty Oliphant

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