Violence prevention in Douglas County was the topic of an interview on the KQEN Talking Health program recently.

Lisa Platt, head of the Mercy Foundation, interviewed Marion Kotowski, the community violence prevention specialist at Mercy Medical Center and Andrea Zielinski, the community outreach coordinator for the Douglas County sheriff’s office, to talk about the human trafficking issue in Douglas County and about gun safety for kids, on KQEN Radio’s Talking Health Program.

The following is an edited version of the interview.

Lisa: Tell us about the UP2US Now child abuse prevention coalition.

Marion: The UP2US Now Child Abuse Prevention Coalition is a community coalition made up of over 30 partners. Those include our law enforcement partners, not-for-profits, government agencies, schools, and medical professionals working together to reduce and prevent the incidence of child abuse in Douglas County.

Lisa: Tell us about the projects and what the funds go for?

Marion: We have a really wonderful community connections project for families who may need some additional services to increase some protective factors for child abuse, or even just to strengthen their families. That’s called our Supporting Families Project. We have a youth media project where we work with local teens producing really wonderful PSA’s on youth issues.

We work with an opiate task force. We have a human trafficking initiative where we train our law enforcement officers. We are also training UCC truck driving students, paramedic students, nursing students, and dental assistant students to recognize the signs and risk factors of human trafficking. We do so much more. We have prevention education in the elementary school, and health relations education in the middle schools and the high schools as well.

Lisa: When did the human trafficking component of UP2US Now start being a part of this program?

Marion: The human trafficking piece is really pretty new to us and it was added about a year ago, when we started to realize that we really did have trafficking issues in Douglas County. It’s very well hidden but anecdotal reports from law enforcement agencies and other partnering agencies, have shown there is a need here. We do have survivors here as well as victims, and we want to be able to help them the best way we can.

We have I-5 that runs right through the middle of Douglas County, and Portland was the number five hub for trafficking, so we knew it was going through our county. We know that through some child abuse reporting, there has been trafficking locally.

Lisa: The Supporting Families Project is a consortium of agencies that came together to review what we have in common as far as a family that’s in crisis. Can you tell us about that?

Marion: We found that there were a lot of different agencies that were working with the same families. Some services were getting duplicated, and some services were not being offered at all. Some families were falling through the cracks when there was so much more that could be done. All of these partners got together, and it’s not just social service agencies, but financial assisting agencies and financial planning agencies, legal services. We can actually hook these families up with whichever services they need and we found this to be a need because a lot of our families don’t know of the local services.

They’re not sure how to reach out, they’re not sure exactly what they need or how to even get it. This program really helps them connect. We’ll take them by the hand and guide them through the process.

Lisa: What are some of the points of entry from where you get your information?

Marion: We have found our most successful referrals come from law enforcement. We do work with Umpqua Training and Education, with DHS, Family Development Center, Healthy Families of Douglas County, Head Start. All of those are entry points, or a family who might need some extra services, can call the Mercy Foundation directly and be hooked right into me, and I am more than happy to help.

Lisa: So what are the objectives and the goals of the coalition?

Marion: We really want to make a significant reduction in the founded incidents of child abuse, which means that there is absolutely child abuse that’s found to exist in these families. We want to reduce those by another 10 percent by 2020. Right now, we are at about 176 cases of child abuse, which is significantly better than where we started. But we really focused on that because we want the children of our community to be safe, to be happy and healthy and we want families to be happy and healthy.

Lisa: Do you have a cost comparison between prevention efforts and intervention?

Marion: We do actually. Prevention services are a fraction of the cost of intervention services. Prevention services to investigate a child abuse claim, are maybe 4 percent of that particular cost. It’s so much less to put prevention services in place to hook families into the services they need before any sort of abuse occurs.

Lisa: Andrea, tell me about the Eddie Eagle program.

Andrea: I go to schools and talk to kids about what to do if you see a gun. We have gone throughout Douglas County talking to kids about how they can be safe. Myself, Deputy Kennerly and Eddie go to classrooms and teach kids about the four things you need to do if you see a gun, which is stop, don’t touch, leave the area, and tell an adult. I know that we served over 1,600 kids last year.

Lisa: What grades does it cover?

Andrea: We serve kindergarten through third graders and we have two different programs, so the little ones get a different program than the older kids. They all get to see a video which is something that anybody can access on You-tube. So parents can look it up online and on the sheriff’s department web page.

Lisa:How do parents or teachers get in touch with you?

Andrea: Just contact me at the sheriff’s office at 541-440-4486 and you can schedule a time for Eddie to come to your classroom. You can also go to the website: www.dcso.com

The Challenge of the Heroes event, where first responders wait tables at local restaurants, is set for 5:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday. It is an annual fundraiser to support the UP2US child abuse prevention projects in the community. All tips are donated to UP2US.

Reporter Dan Bain can be reached at 541-957-4221 or e-mail at dbain@nrtoday.com.

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