“It’s really hard being a parent in any circumstance,” reflected Sallie Starrett, CEO and executive director of Brightpaths. “But if he has to work two jobs, if he’s a single parent or if his parents didn’t give him a good parenting role model, then it’s even harder.”
Brightpaths is not just dedicated to preventing child abuse. The nonprofit organization Oconee also works with families in the area who simply need help.
“Our ultimate vision is a community free of child abuse and neglect, and we’re working toward that every day by building safe and stable families through connection, education and support,” said Starrett, a county high school alumna of Oconee.
Brightpaths begins by identifying children and families who are at risk of maltreatment, using social, family, and individual risk factors.
“Many times we see families… who are doing the best they know [but] they just need some support,” Starrett said. “So we work with families whose children have been identified as being at risk of abuse, for reasons that often have nothing to do with the parents.”
After identifying families who need help, Brightpaths provides resources and support in the form of free parenting classes and its First Steps program for new parents.
“All parents need support and the levels of support they need are different,” Starrett said.
With the Healthy Families program, child abuse is prevented with intensive long-term home visiting services. Family support workers screen families for maternal depression and interpersonal violence. They also screen children for developmental progress.
“We can provide early intervention when it seems like a child might need help,” Starrett said. “And we can support parents as they learn to advocate for their children.”
Starrett hopes to be out of a job as Brightpaths continues to prevent abuse, but the need is still there, even in Oconee County, where 168 reports of abuse were made in 2020.
“Not all of them were substantiated,” Starrett explained, “but it means there were reports for 168 kids where someone said, ‘I think something is going on and this family needs help.'”
In Georgia, 22 children are victims of abuse or neglect every day, and nearly 118 incidents of child abuse or neglect are reported daily, according to Georgia Court Appointed Special Advocates, Inc.
“The need definitely exists and continues to exist,” Starrett said.
Starrett wants the community to recognize that some parents don’t have much support to lean on. While some parents can rely on the help of a mother, mother-in-law, friends, or a church group, others cannot, leading parents to make difficult decisions.
For example, some parents leave a young child home alone to work a second job, which is considered neglect of supervision. But choosing not to go to work may mean they can’t put food on the table.
“We want to help people understand that most parents are doing their best,” Starrett said. “The families we work with are great people and they love their children, as much as I love my children, as much as anyone loves their children.”
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. For anyone who would like to donate or volunteer with the nonprofit, please visit brightpathsathens.org. To report child abuse or neglect, call 1 (855) 422-4453.
For more on this story, check out the April 7 issue of The Oconee Enterprise, on sale now at convenience stores, supermarkets and newsstands across Oconee County. To sign up, call (706) 769-5175 or visit the tab on our website.