We’re Still Here Building Community Prevention Action Plans

By: Kris Demers, Prevent Child Abuse NC Communications Manager

In 2020, Prevent Child Abuse NC received a grant from The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust to create the first Tri-County Regional Community Prevention Action Plan in North Carolina.  The plan is to improve coordination within and between systems to enhance care for people impacted by adverse experiences and to build resilience in Southeastern NC.

Child Maltreatment: A Preventable, Community Problem

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw families face additional stressors like financial insecurity and isolation from the caring connections in their lives. Parental stress and social isolation are both risk factors for child maltreatment, which is an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). ACEs like child maltreatment, disrupt normal child development, negatively impacting a child’s growing brain.

Child maltreatment can lead to long-term social, emotional, and health consequences impacting them and the entire community. In NC alone, we spend $2 billion every year in health, social services, criminal justice, remedial education, and lost worker productivity as a result of child abuse and neglect. The good thing is, we know child maltreatment is preventable when communities invest in making sure all children grow up in safe, stable, nurturing environments.

Picture this: A community that prioritizes building the safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments children and families need to thrive. Wouldn’t you want your children to grow up in that kind of community? We would, too.

One way we can help build capacity and educate communities about the role we all play in building safe, stable, nurturing environments is by creating Community Prevention Action Plans.

Strengthening families with Community Prevention Action Plans

Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina (PCANC) works alongside North Carolina communities to build Community Prevention Action Plans (CPAPs). These plans educate, empower, and support communities to implement effective child abuse and neglect prevention strategies so every child grows up in a safe, stable, nurturing environment. The CPAPs are based on the Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework and are built by community members across all sectors.

To build a successful CPAP, a community needs access to various resources. Through the years, PCANC, with the help of many partners, developed tools for communities to make local planning and community engagement easier. In addition, PCANC provides communities with a framework to build the plan and technical assistance and support to help guide the process.

North Carolina’s First Tri-County Regional CPAP

Over the past year and a half, PCANC supported the creation of a unique CPAP, the first plan of its kind involving three counties. The Tri-County Regional CPAP, funded by Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, spans Southeastern NC incorporating Bladen, Columbus, and Robeson Counties. The plan was completed in Fall 2021.

The Tri-County CPAP had two goals: 1) To build resilience and awareness of ACEs in schools, families, and communities, and 2) To create a safe, nurturing physical and emotional environment at home, at school, and in the community.

To help reach those goals, the plan includes the following overarching strategies:

  1. Increase social media and online presence to advance community outreach efforts
  2. Host community cafes for parents, youth, and/or community members
  3. Host screenings of the Resilience film
  4. Provide Protective Factors and/or Connections Matter trainings to parents, caregivers, community leaders, and agency staff
  5. Work closely with public schools and early childhood centers to ensure that staff have access to training on brain science, ACEs, and how to help children cope with trauma
  6. Make Protective Factors Training available to agencies as an available resource for families that are facing mandates due to investigations of child abuse or neglect
  7. Identify additional funding sources that support efforts to bring evidence-based/informed prevention programs to the Region
  8. Work across the Region to identify effective programs that can be scaled up to increase participation for the population that needs them the most
  9. Host an event that highlights agencies and programs that are working on prevention efforts

Building this specific CPAP was a tremendous effort that came with the task of not only collaborating across agencies and sectors to define and implement these strategies but across all three counties.

Building the plan

While CPAPs are built by community members, the work is led by backbone organizations within each community. We chatted with two of the Tri-County CPAP coordinators about their experiences as representatives of their respective backbone organizations: Rhiannon Chavis, from Robeson County Partnership for Children, and Rosa Bolden, who worked with Columbus County Partnership for Children during the time the Tri-County CPAP was being built.

Bolden reiterated the responsibility that she and the other coordinators had in organizing efforts across all three counties.

“It was our role to bring all the people to the table that needed to be there to help determine the needs of our own county, as well as the needs of our tri-county partners,” Bolden said.

Bolden and Chavis relied on guidance from PCANC Partnership Engagement Manager Felisha McElvine, who managed the project and helped coordinate efforts across Bladen, Columbus, and Robeson counties. McElvine mentioned that together, the counties overcame challenges by focusing on the main goal of the work. Keeping the big picture in mind was vital to building a successful Tri-County CPAP that served not only individual county needs but also broadened the strategy to fit the entire region.

“A challenge in building the Tri-County CPAP was ensuring we didn’t lose the big picture by only focusing on the needs of our respective counties,” Chavis said. “But I think we did that well and Felisha did a good job of facilitating that process but let us build it by giving us ownership of designing and defining our strategies.”

McElvine attributes the importance and success of CPAPs to how they allow for the unmet needs of the communities to be addressed in a way that builds upon their strengths. Chavis echoed this point by reiterating the value in having Bladen, Columbus, and Robeson counties specifically involved in the creation of this collaborative, regional plan.

“At least two of the three counties have tribal communities involved, we deal with poverty, and have all been devastated by hurricanes,” Chavis said. “Our strengths lie in the fact that we’re the three specific counties that were picked for this regional CPAP.”

CPAPs are based on the Protective Factors, conditions in families and communities that, when present, increase the health and well-being of children and families and are linked to a lower incidence of child abuse and neglect. These attributes serve as buffers, helping parents find resources, support, or coping strategies that allow them to parent effectively, even under stress. The Protective Factors were at the heart of the Tri-County CPAP, beating a drum that led to every decision the group made.

“The Protective Factors helped us maintain focus of why we do what we do,” Chavis said. “They helped in designing strategies and identifying who to bring to the table.”

PCANC is still here, working to build and sustain the Protective Factors in North Carolina communities. Bolden was trained as a Protective Factors trainer through PCANC and reiterated the important role these attributes serve in building the safe, stable, nurturing environments NC’s children need for healthy development.

“They [Protective Factors] teach parents how to work with the children,” Bolden said. “They teach the community how to navigate and provide what families need. [They teach parents] how to take a break, how to seek out help, and how to make connections. Through the Protective Factors, we learn that making connections is vital to building resilient communities.”

The Tri-County CPAP was completed in Fall 2021 and received two years of funding for implementation of the plan. However, the work isn’t simply over when that time is up. Chavis sees this plan as an ongoing process with the opportunity for continual growth in Bladen, Columbus, and Robeson counties.

“I don’t see this as a finite process,” Chavis said. “To me, this is a living document. The boxes will never fully be checked off because communities can always adapt to improve as the needs of the community evolve.”

Bolden hopes that the plan is implemented the way that the collaborative designed it and that all the training and parent programs come to fruition. Now the plan will take on a life of its own within the three counties and will continue educating community members and building those safe, stable, nurturing environments children need to thrive.

“It was a tremendous effort, but it worked,” Bolden said.

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