March 20, 2005: Headlines: COS - Yemin: Child Abuse: Yemin RPCV Susan Sharkey is interim director of the Jackson County Child and Parent Center

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Yemin RPCV Susan Sharkey is interim director of the Jackson County Child and Parent Center

Yemin RPCV Susan Sharkey is interim director of the Jackson County Child and Parent Center

Yemin RPCV Susan Sharkey is interim director of the Jackson County Child and Parent Center

Agency in transition as child abuse rises
Sunday, March 20, 2005
By Pat Rombyer
Staff Writer
# The Child and Parent Center is regrouping with a new staff focusing on community education.

As child abuse grows in Jackson County, a small agency in Jackson is regrouping to reduce the risk.

The Child and Parent Center, operated by the Council for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect of Jackson County, lost three key employees last year, but now has new staff in place, led by interim director Susan Sharkey.

"I was really unfamiliar with this program, but I have a soft heart and I am especially interested in the children," said Sharkey, who signed on in January for a six-month stint at the center, 606 Greenwood Place. "There are ways to help and to prevent these things from happening by teaching parents to parent well."

Sharkey, 47, and Renee Ingraham, a domestic violence expert with degrees in criminal justice, are full-time employees; two others, Jennifer Fall and Beth Francis, both social workers, work part time.

They fill the vacancies left by longtime director Betty Wright, who left the post last fall to try her hand in another human service area; parent education coordinator Dot Tetreault, who has her own therapy practice; and Carrie Good, who left last summer to become the director at the John George Home.

The new staff comes at a time when child abuse is on the rise. Last year in Jackson County, the Family Independence Agency, now the Department of Human Services, investigated 1,822 reports of abuse and neglect and substantiated 479. That compares with the 273 substantiated cases in 1999. Sharkey comes to the job with a business background as well as a post-college Peace Corps tour in Yemin, where she worked at a boys orphanage for two years.

"She's not a social worker, but it's good to have someone with a sense of business management," said Donn Roberts, chairman of the center's board of directors. "Not that we didn't have that before, but she brings more with her background. She keeps an eye on the purse strings."

This is Sharkey's second interim job. She filled in at the Irish Hills Girl Scout Council before Jean Ann Hughes took over as chief executive officer in September. Mike McKenna, acting director at the United Way of Jackson County, said Sharkey has done a remarkable job. "They've had their struggles, but she's getting it back on solid ground," he said.

The center operates on an annual budget of $215,000, with most funds coming from grants, the United Way and fund-raisers.

The state's Children's Trust Fund, the only statewide nonprofit dedicated to preventing child abuse, allocates $15,000 annually to the agency. It also may funnel several thousands of dollars a year through the agency to other organizations in the county that work to prevent child abuse.

"We haven't done that in the past six or eight years," Sharkey said. "We're going to try and turn that around. That's money that can help Jackson County children."

The center opened in 1980 and operates under the Council for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect's mission, which is to "strengthen families and reduce the risk of child abuse and neglect."

To accomplish that mission, the center has historically offered parenting classes and drop-in child care for stressed out parents. But those two services were axed for budget reasons. Individual counseling also was dropped.

"It's a source of concern for us, but we have to make choices," Sharkey said.

She's working on ways to involve parents, maybe through support groups or brown-bag lunch meetings as opposed to the traditional 10-week classes they offered in the past.

"We're in the creative stages," she said. "We will be looking at what meets the needs of the community that is not a duplication of services and is core to our mission."

Roberts agrees. "We have so many ideas, so many things we want to do as a board, it's a question of how much we can afford."

Community education still tops the list of priorities at the center, and Francis, who was hired just last week, will coordinate the effort.

"That's our No. 1 thing," Sharkey said.

Education programs include teaching children about risky strangers and the popular "Baby Think it Over," a program that uses life-like dolls to teach the disadvantages of teenage motherhood.

One of the first items on Sharkey's community education agenda will be an event at Westwood Mall. On April 29, the agency will be part of "Mother Goose on the Loose," which will display all the resources that are available to Jackson-area families.

"We don't have the extended families around like we did in the past," Sharkey said. "I don't think people know all the help that there is in the community."

The center is an approved site for supervised visitation, where parents with an abusive history may spend time with their children. That program is funded by outside grants.

Getting word out about prevention is handled by the community education component at the agency. The United Way of Jackson County allocates $20,000 to help fund that program, which carries a price tag closer to $50,000.

Another $15,000 from United Way helps fund an early truancy intervention program for children in grades K-5 and a separate one for students ages 12 to 16.

Ingraham coordinates the federally funded Safe Haven, the supervised visitation program for abusive parents.

"That's a high-profile program," Sharkey said. "It's getting a lot of national attention."

Another responsibility of the center is to train medical personnel, educators and others in child-related fields to identify and report cases of child abuse. Ministers have recently been added to that list.

Sharkey has a master's degree in business administration from the University of Kansas and spent most of her adult career administering national health programs in the United States and Puerto Rico.

She and her husband, Ed, met while in the Peace Corps and ended up in Jackson when she took a job with Physicians Health Plan. They have two daughters and a son.

Sharkey is undecided whether to apply for the permanent position, but some board members would like to keep her on.

"I think she's wonderful," said Jackson attorney Stephen Conley, a longtime board member.

-- Reach reporter Pat Rombyer at 768-4924 or

© 2005 Jackson Citizen Patriot. Used with permission

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