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The River

The Heart of Life: The River

Monday, April 2, 2012

The River

I forgot to mention it in my last post, but my blog changed!  It's yellow!  Yes, it's bright and obnoxious, but I like it.  It's cheerful.  Cheerful is a good thing.

It's April, so it's officially Child Abuse Prevention Month!  Not only is it my personal blog theme for the month, it's actually a nationally recognized thing!  I know not everyone is as obsessive about child abuse prevention as I am, so let me explain some of the big names in preventing child abuse.  Prevent Child Abuse America is a national organization with 47 state-wide chapters.  They've recently started a campaign called Pinwheels for Prevention.  This campaign has designated the pinwheel as the official symbol for child abuse prevention.  I like this as a symbol.  Child abuse prevention preserves the innocence of childhood, and the pinwheel is a good portrayal of this simple innocence.  Child abuse has always been a somewhat scary and taboo subject, so people tend to shy away when it's talked about.  They like to believe it doesn't really happen.  The pinwheel is a subtle reminder that child abuse is indeed a problem, but we need not be afraid of preventing it.

In order to explain the importance of prevention, I'd like to preface this month's theme with a story I heard last week at a conference:

A man was walking along the banks of a river when he heard a large splash and a cry for help.  He ran, following the sound of the cries until he came upon a child floundering in the middle of the deep river.  He wasted no time; he jumped in and pulled the child to safety.  He noted the child was not breathing, so he performed CPR.  Shortly afterward, the child gave a sputter and cough and began to breathe on his own.  Relieved, the man scooped up the child in his arms and took him to the hospital.

The next day, the man was once again walking along the same river when once again there was a large splash.  Once again, he raced to help and found another child drowning in the exact same spot in the river.  Once again, he pulled the child to safety, gave her CPR, then carried her to the hospital.

The exact same thing happened again the following day, with only one major difference--there were two children this time.  The man performed honorably--he hoisted not one, but two children to safety and miraculously performed CPR on both children until they were breathing.  He summed up his remaining strength and carried the two children to the hospital.

The man noted a pattern--all these near drownings occurred in the same area of the river.  He also noticed that the number of near drownings was increasing.  He felt a certain responsibility to rescue the children who fell in the river, but knew he wouldn't be able to do it alone.  Rescuing one child single-handedly had been difficult; rescuing two children on his own had been nothing short of miraculous.  Thus he employed the help of several friends.  Together they kept watch over the river and rescued each and every child that fell in the river.

The number of children falling into the river continued to increase.  Soon the man and his friends were overwhelmed.  They needed more help.  They went to the mayor and explained what was happening.  The mayor was sympathetic and assigned a group of emergency personnel to assist the man and his friends.

After a few weeks, a member of the emergency personnel had a brilliant idea.  She had noted that the path they were taking to the hospital was a very indirect route.  She suggested that they create a new path to the hospital.  This would decrease the time it took to make the commute to and from the hospital.  All agreed, and they went to work making this new path.  Just as they had suspected, the new path definitely helped to streamline their rescuing process.

However, even after these improvements the problem continued.  The group was flabbergasted.  They didn't know what else to do.  Thus, they called in the local drowning expert.  They explained everything they'd been doing to save the drowning children.  They showed her the life-saving equipment they'd acquired, and told her of the CPR trainings they'd attended.  They even showed her the data they'd collected on how much time they were saving with the new path to the hospital.

After she'd seen everything, the expert stood on the riverbank gazing at the river.  She had just one question, "But why are the children falling in?"  One group member pointed out the cliff that hung over the "trouble spot" in this river.  He said, "They fall off that cliff."  The expert scratched her chin and suggested that they investigate what was happening at the top of this cliff.

When they got to the top of the cliff, they found a soccer field packed with soccer-playing children.  The soccer field was precariously close to the edge of this cliff.  "When they play too closely to the edge of the cliff, they tend to fall off," the expert explained to the rescue crew.  "Rescuing the children who have fallen off the cliff is good, but it is better to prevent children from falling in the first place.  If we build a fence along the edge of this cliff, the children wouldn't fall off.  They won't be in danger of drowning.  They won't need to be rescued.  That will solve your problem."

And so a fence was built along the edge of the cliff.  Suddenly, children stopped falling into the river.  All it took was a simple chain-link fence to keep the children safe.

As a society, we have a way of making problems more complicated than they need to be.  We devise elaborate plans and methods of saving those who have metaphorically fallen off the cliff, but sometimes we forget to ask why they're falling off the cliff.  Often, it is much simpler (and more inexpensive) to stop a problem before it happens than to remedy to a problem that has already occurred.

I am a social worker and my current job is in child abuse prevention, so it's something I do and think about a lot.  However, the responsibility to prevent child abuse doesn't lie solely on the shoulders of social workers, and other helping professionals.  This is everybody's problem to solve!  Is this daunting?  Absolutely.  It's easy to support child abuse prevention, but how does the average person actually prevent child abuse?  For the next several weeks I'll be talking about how the average, everyday person can actively prevent child abuse in his or her community.  Let's build some fences!



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