Once, when I was a single mother, I dressed my 16-month-old daughter in the prettiest outfit she owned and sat her on the couch while I finished dressing.
It was our normal routine.
When I returned to the living room, my normally obedient child had demonstrated her artistic abilities by smearing Royal Crown hair dressing — a pomade-like product — all over her hair, her clothing, the couch and the carpet.
About that time, my neighbor knocked on the door, saw what had happened and quickly took my daughter and a change of clothes to her apartment.
I didn't see either of them again for a couple of hours, long enough for me to clean up the mess and calm down.
Joel Griffith, director of programs for Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky, said so many young parents need neighbors like the one I had.
"What we know about parents who are in tough situations, but who don't lose it, is often those parents have social supports," Griffith said.
Those supports in the past came in the form of grandparents, uncles, aunts, neighbors or church members.
"Thirty years ago we were a less transient culture," he said, with extended family members and other social connections nearby. "Families that have access to supports are less likely to abuse or neglect their children."
April 1 signals not only the beginning of a 24-hour cycle of practical jokes for April Fool's Day, but it also marks the beginning of National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
In Kentucky, the theme of this year's observance is "Commit to Prevent." And, unfortunately, we seem to still need that wake-up call.
Events will be taking place throughout the state to bring awareness of child abuse prevention, including the planting of blue and silver pinwheels in Wellington Park in Lexington on April 5, preceded by a 5K run/walk in the Kentucky Horse Park at 9 a.m.
According to the Child Protective Service, 23,951 children in Kentucky were involved in substantiated reports of abuse or neglect in 2013. In Fayette County, that number was 1,163.
National trends indicate one in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. If that trend holds true in Kentucky, that would represent more than 10,000 children.
Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky is a statewide agency that offers resources and support for families to prevent abuse and neglect.
Griffith said two basic supports are food and rent assistance.
"If they call 1-800-CHILDREN, we can connect them to resources around the state," he said. "That's our parent helpline."
Parents can also find and join parent education classes and support groups. There they can learn various milestones for their child's development so that they won't have unrealistic expectations of their child, Griffith said.
"Children who are at the greatest risk are typically under 4 years old," he said. "Very young children are less able to predict a parent's frustrations. That's particularly true of infants."
If young parents are provided information about shaken baby syndrome and given tips for soothing a crying baby, that education seems to have positive effects.
"We know that prevention works," Griffith continued.
Parents can simply walk away, he said.
"A child has never been physically injured by crying. Babies go through crying states. Just walk away. It's no one's fault."
Neglect, on the other hand, is an act of omission: a lack of supervision, medical care or food. About 55 percent of abuse and neglect cases are related to substance abuse, Griffith said.
"Substance abuse is a disease," he said. "This is an area where the community is so important. They can keep an eye out for those children."
That's something we all can do.
"Commit to Prevent" is asking us to get more involved in the lives of the children around us. We can pledge to baby-sit free of charge to give parents a break. Or we can form a parent group to discuss the ups and downs of parenting.
We need to find time to do that not only in April but also year round.
Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.