Special to South Florida Times
MIAMI — The Urban League of Miami-Dade is partnering with the Florida Department of Children and Families to launch a campaign tackling child abuse and neglect.
The two agencies unveiled the “Breaking the Cycle” grassroots initiative at a press conference June 28 with the aim of reducing a soaring incidence of child-abuse experienced by black children who end up in Miami-Dade County’s foster care system.
The state agency said black children comprise 60 percent of Miami’s foster care system and, of these children, 42 percent are victims of child abuse.
These figures are staggering compared to state figures showing black children make up 33 percent of the foster care population, the Department of Children and Families said at the press conference.
The number of child abuse cases in Miami is 36.6 percent higher than the average number of child abuse cases involving black foster care children, which stands at 29 percent, according to the state agency.
“There should be no level of comfort with these numbers,” T. Willard Fair, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Miami, told an audience of area politicians, School Board members, police officials and residents at the league’s Freedom Hall, 8400 N.W. 25th Ave., Miami. The growing number of cases “reflect how we raise our children,” Fair said.
The “Breaking the Cycle” initiative hopes to increase community awareness of child abuse and neglect by creating programs that provide parents with strategies to keep their children safe.
David E. Wilkins, secretary of the Department of Children and Families, told the South Florida Times that his agency decided to work with the league because the organization has “demonstrated that it has the infrastructure in place” to effectively reach out and educate Miami’s African-American community about this growing problem.
Over the next year, the initiative will sponsor training programs, support groups and 16 public forums that will encourage parents and residents generally to discuss the issues that give rise to child abuse incidents in Miami’s black community.
The two organizations plan to launch an Effective Black Parenting Program, a 16-week training seminar intended to improve family relationships, teach about drug prevention and promote child development. They will also hold weekly parenting support group meetings in Liberty City in which participants will discuss and learn effective parenting methods.
The initiative seeks to help residents living in an area that includes sections of Miami, El Portal and Miami Shores.
Wilkins told the June 28 audience that he purposely selected the Urban League of Greater Miami to help launch this initiative because it is a “demonstrated organization that knows how to drive change.”
He added, “I believe a community should own its own issues.”
Even though the initiative will not directly target her jurisdiction, Miami Gardens’ outgoing Mayor Shirley Gibson, who attended the session, thanked the two agencies for tackling the problem of child abuse in Miami’s black community.
After the press conference, Gibson told South Florida Times that the initiative’s grassroots approach is the best way to address the problem and reach out to residents.
“We have to accept the fact that it’s our issue to resolve,” said Gibson, who is challenging incumbent Barbara Jordan for the District 1 seat on the Miami-Dade County Commission.
Problems of child abuse typically begin with the family, not the child experiencing the abuse or neglect, Gibson said, adding, “You cannot fix a child unless you fix their family.”
Fair told the audience he sees the initiative as “a conduit to bring the community together.” The first step, he said, is examining the problems.
“The first examination is a self-examination,” Fair said. “And it begins with us.”
Photo courtesy of Khary Bruyning/For South Florida Times