Expert offers inspiration to social workers

National family advocate speaks on child abuse

April 13, 1999|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Naomi Haines Griffith brought a very simple message on how to prevent child abuse to Harford County yesterday: Parents have to love and nurture their children.

"The critical element that shapes us is not grades in school, the house we live in or the money we have spent," said Griffith, who spoke to dozens of social workers and family professionals at the Harford County Public Library in Bel Air in a Child Abuse Prevention Month event. "It's a feeling. If you are empathetic to a child, then you cannot hurt that child."

Griffith, a national speaker, author and consultant on child welfare issues, used humor and old-fashioned storytelling in her lecture, one of several sponsored throughout the state by the Family Tree, an agency that focuses on the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

Griffith -- who has written a book, "Red Clay and Vinegar," about her childhood, with practical advice for parents -- shared stories about growing up in the South and the bond she shares with her 99-year-old mother.

When looking into allegations of abuse, Griffith said, caseworkers must be aware of the bond -- or lack of a bond -- between parents and children. Griffith said professionals must demonstrate to parents how they should treat their children.

"I want them to re-examine what they do," Griffith said of social service workers after her speech. "All families are different, and when working with families, we should build on their strengths."

Torri Dietrich, director of the Family Tree's Harford County office, said officials are seeing an increase in abuse cases in the area. Dietrich said Griffith's appearance helped underscore the importance of social workers' acting as a strong support network for families.

"It was a real energizer," Dietrich said. "She got down to the bottom line, and certainly what we want to do is early detection and early prevention."

Anne Meehling, who teaches a 12-week class on being a parent for the Family Tree, said she sees parents who want to improve their relationships with their children.

"They are interested in working on better disciplinary techniques and nurturing their children's self-esteem," said Meehling, who attended yesterday's program. "[Griffith's] speech really brought out to me, in very plain language, that often parents are good parents and they aren't even aware of it."

Diana Miller, a nurse with the Harford County Health Department, said the lecture also gave her much to think about -- both professionally and personally.

"It really hit home for me because it was something that I can take out into the field and home," said Miller, who is the mother of three. "Anyone could relate to what she had to say."

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