Meet Prevent Child Abuse Indiana’s Jeff Wittman
Jeff Wittman has spent three decades advocating on behalf of families and children. His career across the social service and mental health spectrum, includes positions supporting people at in-patient hospitals, day treatment programs, foster care services, along with school social work and foster youth specialist at the Indiana Department of Education. His work and professional experience give him a unique and informed perspective. However, he says the seeds for his profession were planted at a young age.
“I had an interesting childhood and went through some challenging things, which allowed me the opportunity to speak with a counselor and other people who helped me. I wanted to give back in a similar way,” says Jeff while reflecting on what inspired him to enter the social services field.
He joined the team at Prevent Child Abuse Indiana (PCAIN), a Division of The Villages, a year ago coming from the Department of Education, where he often collaborated with staff at The Villages, Indiana Department of Child Services and PCAIN. “We built relationships that helped me to take the next step,” says Jeff.
As he enters his second year working for PCAIN, Jeff is among the team supporting April’s National Child Abuse Prevention Month awareness and fundraising efforts statewide. Primary prevention is most effective at the community level. Jeff’s role is to support grassroots prevention efforts in Indiana communities through a network of prevention councils.
Currently PCAIN has 44 prevention councils in 54 Indiana counties (several councils oversee multiple counties). “We would like to have all 92 counties represented by a local council. They are the local voice for child abuse prevention. We want each council to have its own unique composition and focus based on what’s important in their county,” says Jeff.
Events in April led by councils include a Family Fun Drive-Through in Shelby County, an Awareness Walk for LaPorte and Porter Counties, and a Night at the Ballpark in St. Joseph County. Councils are also hosting several educational sessions. For the full calendar click here.
Jeff says a lot of the councils plant pinwheels around a courthouse, school, library or local DCS office. “(Pinwheels are) becoming a more familiar symbol of prevention,” says Jeff. “The idea behind primary prevention is that it’s proactive. We’re not focusing on the bad things that happen to children as much as what a healthy community looks like and starting there.” He stresses education and information are critical to understanding and taking action.
“Child abuse is a heavy topic. Sometimes people want to dismiss it as a result. Everyone can do something. Every business and person in the community can do something to make the community a safer place for children,” says Jeff. He adds Indiana is a mandatory reporting state, which means anyone who suspects a child has been neglected or abused must make a report. The statute provides immunity for someone who reports in good faith.
Jeff’s recommendations for how we can all support prevention efforts include:
- Join the prevention council in your county or consider starting one if it doesn’t exist. Councils can have a few or many volunteers. Learn more
- Host an education or training session. The PCAIN staff provides free training sessions for educators, medical professionals, business leaders, teachers, daycare providers and others in the community. Virtual and in-person sessions are available. Learn more here.
- Get involved. Action can be as simple as donating in-kind services to print and distribute awareness brochures or volunteering in the local community as a coach, camp counselor, tutor or mentor. Requiring background checks for anyone working with children is an excellent safety measure.
- Find a solid anchor point in your life to derive unwavering strength and support. Once you identify that for yourself, help others find and/or develop their unique source of strength. For me, my faith is the anchor point, which is a tether in difficult times and keeps me from wandering too far off during good times. This idea is rooted in the Protective Factors Framework from Strengthening Families, which helps promote strong, healthy, connected, and resilient people.
“Keeping families together by preventing trauma is the focus,” Jeff says. “If you are moved or motivated, contact us. We can talk about what it would be like to get involved and we’ll walk alongside of you.”