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Preserve a family, not rescue a child

A new call to action for preventing child abuse

Julie Paine, MSW, LICSW, Vice President of Quality Improvement Innovation and Training

Head shot of Julie Paine, Bethany's Vice President of Quality Improvement Innovation and Training

When 1 in 7 children experiences neglect or abuse, it’s easy to assume the best solution is to remove children from their homes and find them a different family. It’s easy to blame, shame, and punish parents for harm we assume they’ve caused.

But a better solution, even if it challenges what we’re used to, is to strengthen and support parents—especially those who are overwhelmed, isolated, alone, and dealing with their own unresolved family trauma—before a difficult situation becomes a crisis that ends in family separation.

The call to action becomes preserve a family instead of rescue a child. Keep the child safe with their family instead of from their family.

This is the possibility we’re working toward at Bethany, a world where every family is safe, loved, and connected. And this commitment is grounded in who we believe God is and the work he calls all of us to do.

At Bethany, we’re motivated by a faith that tells us God uniquely created and loves all people.

All people have inherent worth because of our Creator, not because of anything we do or don’t do. In the book Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, author Tish Harrison Warren, reminds us we are God’s beloved. She writes,

It’s remarkable that when the Father declares at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” Jesus hasn’t yet done much of anything that many would find impressive… Jesus is sent first to the desert and then into public ministry. But he is sent out first with a declaration of the Father’s love. Jesus is eternally beloved by the Father. His every activity unfurls from his identify as the Beloved. He loved others, healed others, preached, taught, rebuked, and redeemed not in order to gain the Father’s approval, but out of his rooted certainty in the Father’s love.

In the New Testament Bible book of Luke, in chapter 3, Luke tells us Jesus is the Messianic King who brings God’s blessing to all humanity through a genealogic line traced back to Adam (Luke 3:38). God’s blessing is offered to all because God is good and gracious, and we are his creation. God’s generous blessing doesn’t depend on our capacity to earn it (Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:13).

Our work is a microcosm of a larger movement, the coming kingdom, bringing God’s good news to all people.

In Luke 4 we read how Jesus launches his public ministry at a synagogue gathering where he stands up and reads from the scroll of Isaiah (61:1-2), “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). He continues, saying his message includes freedom for prisoners, new sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.

The Bible Project made an illustrated teaching video about the social implications of Jesus’ mission, described throughout the book of Luke. The video includes the observation that his good news was specifically for the poor and what that means, stating: /hyp

In the Old Testament the “poor” … is a much broader category than just people who don’t have very much money. It refers also to people of low social status in their culture, like people with disabilities, or women, children, and the elderly. It also can include social outsiders like people of other ethnic groups or people whose poor life choices have placed them outside of acceptable religious circles. And Jesus says that God’s kingdom is especially good news for these people.

I like the author’s conclusion that Jesus’ kingdom "brought restoration and reversal of people’s whole life circumstances.” That’s the kind of work we’re about at Bethany, and we’re grateful to be part of the bigger, kingdom picture.

We’re called to demonstrate his radical, upside-down love and good news for children, youth, parents, and caregivers—and the communities they live in.

So we’re leaning into learning how we can love and hope more like Jesus, apologizing when we realize we've caused harm or acted selfishly or unjustly. We’re working on how we talk about the work God invites us into, so it more fully represents his heart for his created.

This means moving away from child welfare approaches that blame, shame, and punish parents and moving toward building family well-being, supporting healthy child development where the whole family is at the center. And we’re developing programs that focus on building family resilience, joy, well-being, and health—where local resources are accessible and supports are family-driven and culturally responsive.

That’s why we see stronger parents—supported families—as the solution to child maltreatment.

If we care about kids, we must care about their parents. We’ve been asking, “What do children need?” when the answer is right before us. They need their parents to be OK and well supported so they can safely parent their children.

So our question is now, “How do we keep children safely WITH their families, not FROM their families? We’re starting to do better, supporting families so they can safely parent, rather than “rescuing” children from their parents. We’re expanding how we work with families to provide every child with what they need most—parents who can safely care for them.

We can’t accomplish this work by separating, blaming, shaming, and punishing parents, who themselves likely experienced unmet childhood needs and trauma. People don’t thrive from correction. They thrive with connection. So we’re working harder at listening to families and the communities they’re connected to. We’re working to become a more trusted community partner, designing new ways of working together to ensure children and families have the support they need—long before the need for family separation occurs.

Will you please pray for us?

God’s peace is homegrown. It starts in the small moments in our daily lives—in our homes, churches, and neighborhoods. Daily habits of love, kindness, and peace spill out into our communities, creating cultures of peace where we all find healing and restoration.

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