Podcast offers information on causes, prevention of child neglect

UWM has joined with Children’s Wisconsin in a podcast to help improve the lives of children and families with complex challenges.

“Overloaded: Understanding Neglect” started its second season earlier this year.

The goal of the podcast is to provide information about the causes of child neglect and share prevention strategies, according to Joshua Mersky, professor of social welfare and founding co-director of the Institute for Child and Family Well-Being.

The institute, a community partnership between Children’s Wisconsin and the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare, is producing the podcast. The institute’s mission is to improve the lives of children and families with complex challenges by implementing effective programs, conducting cutting-edge research, engaging communities and promoting systems change. Faculty and staff from both Helen Bader and Children’s are involved in the institute’s numerous projects and programs, and much of their work focuses on families who are at risk of entering the child welfare system.

Reframing how we look at child neglect

According to Mersky, the podcast was the brainchild of Luke Waldo of Children’s Wisconsin, who is the director of program design and community engagement at the institute. The idea behind the podcast was to support a broader initiative at Children’s that focuses on reframing how we look at child neglect and leading the way toward discovering and developing new strategies to support families and address this complex social problem.

Joshua Mersky

The podcasts address a number of key issues, including the difficulty of defining and understanding what neglect is, how neglect affects families and why there are disparities in the child welfare system.

“Neglect is intertwined with poverty in society, but the challenge is separating out the poverty from neglect,” Mersky said.

What’s been observed for many years is that children and families of color, specifically Black and African American families, are disproportionately likely to be involved in the child welfare system, and there’s a longstanding debate as to why that is, Mersky said.

“I think that our partners at Children’s are just deeply interested in figuring out how to better serve children and families in our community and to reduce the likelihood that they become involved in the child welfare system,” he said. “And if they do become involved in the child welfare system, wanting to reduce the likelihood that they will be placed in foster care or out-of-home care.”

Better way to communicate

One reason for turning to a podcast is that people are more likely to listen than to read a report or brochure, Mersky said. The podcasts run from 45 to 90 minutes. “So, you can get much deeper into an issue. There are certain things you can accomplish in that space that you just can’t in a newsletter or other media.”

Luke Waldo

The podcast hosts discussions with UWM and Children’s Wisconsin professionals, local and national experts, and people with lived experience, Waldo said.

Another focus of the podcasts is looking at ways to strengthen families and prevent child abuse and neglect.

Most resources in the child welfare system are focused on what Mersky calls “downstream” intervention, trying to help children who have been abused and neglected or exposed to significant adversity. “That’s always going to be necessary for sure,” Mersky said, “but I think we are particularly interested in moving further upstream to more primary or secondary prevention kinds of approaches.”

Research on reducing child abuse

The institute is conducting research on a number of these approaches that have been shown to reduce the risk of child abuse and neglect, such as home visiting programs that provide services starting before or shortly after the birth of a child.

One particular approach Mersky talked about in his segment of the podcast was evaluating the state’s network of family resource centers. These are community hubs throughout the state that serve as one-stop-shops for families and provide a variety of services and support, based on what individual families need. That can include parenting education and skills classes, helping meet basic economic needs or “light touch” services like diaper or food banks, according to Mersky.

These family resource centers can also link families to other resources in the community, he added. The centers are open to all families, with services tailored to family needs. For those families facing many complex challenges, the centers can provide help in coordinating care from organizations that support mental health, housing, substance abuse, domestic violence and other issues.

Well received

The “Overloaded” podcast is designed for those in health and human services, child welfare workers, program supervisors and administrators of community organizations serving families, teachers and school officials and others concerned about the issues, according to Mersky.

So far, the podcasts have been well received, Mersky said, adding “We’d love to get it out to a broader audience.”

Anyone interested in listening to the podcasts or learning more about the Institute for Child and Family Well-being can check out information on the institute’s website.

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