Blue Sunday: Hundreds of churches will pray for the safety of children, rescuers and an end to abuse Sunday

Published: Friday, April 26 2013 8:10 a.m. MDT

Like the Grahams, 25 other people in his church trained recently to become foster parents. In some communities, people who started by praying for the cause of wounded kids now serve on child welfare boards in their communities or help organize special events, from handing out child safety car seats to mentoring inexperienced parents. They also try to knock down small barriers that would prevent a family from taking a child who is in crisis. Magee speaks, for example, of helping a grandmother buy a bus ticket to pick up her grandkids and the clothing they need for school.

A big boost

Blue Sunday keeps growing. It went to a whole new level when it was "adopted" as a cause by Shepherding the Next Generation, a nonprofit network of evangelical pastors and ministry leaders committed to defending children in need. Its website describes what love for at-risk families looks like: giving teen moms strong parenting skills and the youngest kids access to early childhood education so they get to kindergarten ready to learn; helping troubled teens turn it around; and training young men so they grow up to be better fathers, often, than they had themselves.

This network, too, knows the painful statistics: In 2011, about 681,000 children were confirmed victims of serious abuse or neglect. Most of the 1,570 who died were killed by the parents who were supposed to guide their growth and keep them from harm.

The Washington, D.C.-based group targets first the issues for children birth to third grade, said director Tom Pearce, a former Michigan state legislator. They believe in reaching into impoverished and challenged homes to mentor and encourage. The church, he said, is part of the solution to societal problems, so they also promote programs that are proven. "Pastors become unexpected messengers to policymakers about these issues," he said.

Prayers for the rescuers of children are especially important, he noted. "If the courts ignore the concerns of caseworkers or downplay it, the rescue is incomplete. We ask God to give them all incredible discernment as to how to best protect that child." They also pray for a "Samaritan heart" — one that helps them to be involved, to step up, to report, to protect.

Social workers who must make tough decisions about families especially need prayer and encouragement, said Texas Child Protective Services Program Director Julian Apolinar. "The power of prayer is extremely helpful, particularly with the families that we work with and the children who are under our charge. ... By having as many people pray for these children who need to be in safe, loving, nurturing homes, hopefully that will go a long way."

People are quicker to thank first responders like police, fire and rescue crews and soldiers. That's good, he said. But, "it's easy to forget our other first responders — CPS staff. Our staff go out every day and knock on doors where there is a suspected child in need of protection from maltreatment or abuse. Our staff advocate for these children in the courts' legal system and work diligently trying to find a positive, permanent outcome for the children entrusted to them. These courageous people also need that type of prayer. As social workers, we believe it is our duty and responsibility to ensure that this most vulnerable population is not forgotten. Child abuse awareness and prevention is the entire community's responsibility to protect the unprotected."

He hopes, he said, that the power of prayer and commitment from churches and community leaders will one day mean children aren't abused or neglected.

It's a sentiment echoed across the country.

"Utah Division of Child and Family Services is extremely appreciative of those in our community who come together to ensure the safety and well-being of our future — our children," said spokeswoman Elizabeth Sollis. "Child safety is best accomplished when those in the community and positions of power, whether it be policymakers, government agencies, non-governmental agencies or faith-based groups, not only discuss the need for child safety, but take action to make sure it happens. All of our children deserve the best."

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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