Davis: Prevention of abuse, neglect focus of resource fair

When children are taken from their homes by state officials, the actions are never based on whim. There has to be evidence of neglect or abuse in the home to warrant such actions.

Monica Chenault understands that. Two of her children were placed with relatives because her drug addiction trumped her responsibilities as a mother.

"I struggled for 13 years with the disease of addiction," said Chenault, 41. "It took a toll on my family and my friends and my children. I just want what I want when I want it."

Because she wasn't providing a healthy environment for her children, they were taken from her.

"I never did get them back," she said, even after successfully changing her life and lifestyle.

Chenault said she knows her children are better off living with relatives, but she hasn't gotten over the sense of inadequacy she feels for not being there for them when they needed her the most.

She doesn't want any other parents to have to live with that guilt. Chenault will attend the Friends of Children Resource Fair and try, like folks with the agencies attending, to help parents understand how to prevent child abuse or neglect before it starts.

Nearly 30 representatives of government and civic groups, along with a massage therapist, a face-painter, free food and door prizes such as bicycles, will be at the fair, which is the last local event during National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Firefighters and a fire truck will also be on hand.

"You might pick up some information while you are there, that, when you are at your wits' end and don't know what to do with this child, can provide a phone number on a pamphlet that tells you where to go," Bobbi Quam said.

In 2009, 63,678 children in Kentucky were reported to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services as abused, neglected or in need of protective services, according to Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky. The incidents crossed economic, educational and cultural lines.

Chenault and Quam are members of Friends of Children, a collaboration of several organizations and volunteers from schools, worship centers and other groups focusing on child safety. The groups meet once a month.

"We have different speakers each month," said Quam, coordinator of the fair for five years. "We look at statistics and see what kinds of thing have gone on during the last month.

"I started with the group when I worked at the (Fayette County) health department," she said. "When I retired, I stayed with it. This is my one big passion for no money."

Chenault, now a college student studying for a degree in human services, shares that passion. After losing custody of her children, spending time in jail and in rehabilitation, Chenault is conquering barriers she readily admits she had placed in her own life.

"It's been rough but not as hard as I thought it would be," she said.

She gets to interact with her two children who live with relatives, and she has another child now. And while things are much better for her, she said she still doesn't want to see other parents or their children go through what she did.

"I believe the resource fair is an opportunity to meet other people and learn about services that are available," she said. "It is important for you to find a way out before the system finds you a way out."