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September 27, 2011

Oswego County Child Protection Council Moves Forward with Community Outreach and New Programs

MEXICO - Oswego County DSS is in a better position to help parents raise their children in a safe and nurturing environment than they were a few years ago, legislators learned during a recent report from the County Child Protection Advisory Council (CPAC).

CPAC chairperson Karrie Damm, vice chairman Jeff Grimshaw, and Dr. Dennis Mullaney presented the annual update to the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee. The council has made solid progress over the past 12 months, legislators learned, by developing a community outreach program, establishing a mission and by-laws and creating realistic goals and objectives.

"Out of a tragic situation, this is a tremendously successful program," said Legislature Barry Leemann at the conclusion of the presentation. "Certainly, on behalf of the County Legislature, I would like to thank you for your dedication and interest."

Legislator John Proud, District 7, Mexico, chairs the Health and Human Services Committee which oversees the County Department of Social Services.

"Working closely with the DSS staff, the Child Protection Advisory Council has identified several activities and programs that will continue to promote and sustain child safety and well-being. They include community outreach and education, evaluation of preventive and early intervention strategies, and examining existing resources and new programming methods that could be incorporated in our Child Protective Services," said Legislator Proud.

The Child Protection Advisory Council was appointed by the County Legislature to strengthen the child protective system and is a partnership of social service agencies, schools, civic organizations, churches, and the community. Its formation was one of the steps that the Oswego County Legislature took to improve child protection programs after the tragic death of Erin Maxwell in 2008.

"To be honest, DSS was demonized during this whole process and they were not the enemy," said Dr. Dennis Mullaney, a member of CPAC and emergency room physician who worked at the former A. L. Lee Memorial Hospital in Fulton. "They were overwhelmed; we were all overwhelmed."

Dr. Mullaney told committee members that the way to make an impact on child abuse is through prevention.

"Child abuse is a problem in every county in the state," he said. "Oswego County has one of the better programs because the attitude is that we can't tolerate this. There's been an attitudinal change -- we're not going to tolerate this any more."

The council kicked off a series of community forums during National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April to gather input and address the issue of child abuse at a grass-roots level.

"Child safety is a community obligation," said Damm. "All community members should be concerned about child safety and well-being." Along with developing goals and a work plan, CPAC members adopted a slogan that reflects their message: "Our County, Our Children, Our Future, It's Our Responsibility."

"Obviously child abuse is a hugely complicated issue," said Grimshaw. "We wanted to gather information on what people's thoughts are, make people part of the conversation, and listen to what people have to say. Our intention was to gather information and get people to start thinking about it as a community. Obviously, a small group of people that are participating in the Child Protection Advisory Committee can't fix this problem."

Through surveys, a mailing list of those who attended the community forums, and other methods the council is developing an outreach system to distribute information and inform the public of actions they can take in developing safer and stronger communities.

CPAC members are enthusiastic about accomplishing the next steps - to expand community outreach, strengthen family support systems and referral services for at-risk populations, and introduce new programming that provides increased emphasis on child safety and well-being.

Legislator Proud thanked the council representatives for attending the meeting.

"On behalf of this committee, I thank you and the members of your group for your service, interest and dedication to move this thing forward, so we can correct some of these glaring social problems that afflict all counties," he said.

In addition to Legislator Proud, members of the Health and Human Services Committee are vice chairman Jacob Mulcahey, District 15; Barbara Brown, District 8; James Karasek, District 22; Margaret Kastler, District 1; Ron Sakonyi, District 5; and Terry Wilbur, District 21.

Anyone suspecting abuse or maltreatment should report it to the NYS toll free hotline at 1-800-342-3720. If you think a child is in immediate danger, call 911 or the local police department.

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