Children thrive when they are surrounded by stable, consistent and meaningful relationships with caring adults.

Research shows that a quality mentoring relationship can have a resoundingly positive impact on young people’s lives. Youth with quality mentoring experience better educational, vocational and psychosocial outcomes than their unmentored peers. For all its benefits, unfortunately, one in three young people will grow up without ever having a positive mentor.

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Urgent, complex challenges affect children across Indiana, including high infant mortality rates, persistent achievement gaps, and the soaring impact of parental opioid use. There are successful prevention and intervention programs operated by youth-serving organizations throughout the state, many of which engage government, philanthropic and corporate partners. The complexity of many social problems, such as preparing all children for success beyond high school, calls for shared community investments of time and treasure that are beyond the scope of any single sector. Solving these complex problems will require expansion of partnerships and collaborations and reduction of siloed services. A growing body of evidence shows the key to lasting improvements in the well-being of Indiana children will be the proliferation of prolonged cross-sector partnerships.

The collective impact approach holds potential for tackling large-scale social problems. First defined by the Stanford Social Innovation Review in 2011, this framework brings together multi-sector stakeholders with a shared desire to address a large-scale social problem. It has been received with enthusiasm and widespread, rapid adoption. But with implementation and effectiveness varying greatly across initiatives, many question whether “collective impact” is simply a trendy update to the term “collaboration.” David Shapiro, CEO of MENTOR, notes, “Once something gets popularized and trendy, it also gets watered down and given a million meanings.”

The collective impact framework offers a fundamentally different approach based on discipline, high performance and constant adaptability. Stanford’s model outlines five key conditions that differentiate the approach from other collaborations or partnerships: a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and the presence of a backbone organization.

Experts stress that three conditions must be in place before launching a collective impact initiative: an influential area champion, adequate financial resources and a sense of urgency for change. There must also be a core understanding that collective impact work takes time, patience and financial resources. Having worked with successful collective impact initiatives centered on youth mentoring, Shapiro stresses the importance of coming together around a critical issue. He states, “We are all trying to solve very hard problems. No one is saying that you are failing because you haven’t solved them the way that you’ve been trying to solve them. We’re just trying to figure out if there are new ways to continue to push on the solutions together.”

Promise Indiana, a nonprofit based out of Wabash, functions as the backbone organization for community-driven efforts to instill the hope, culture and habits needed to create pathways for all children to go to college. This initiative engages many sector partners including: government, nonprofits, schools, higher education institutions, community foundations, businesses, philanthropic partners and individual donors. In fact, the community applies to the program as a unit. Clint Kugler, Promise Indiana’s founder, explains that the program succeeds by “connecting current systems and creating a network of community champions.” To date, 17 Indiana communities have committed to this collective impact project, with several more planned to join in 2018.

Policymakers and funders can support increased impact by encouraging a collective impact approach to large-scale social issues. Stakeholders from all sectors must be invited to the table, and they must arrive with a learning mindset and a willingness to compromise in service of the overarching goal. The best collective impact initiatives include space to customize for local context. In addition to leaders from the public and private sectors, it is important to engage individuals who are directly impacted by the issue being addressed, those with the lived experience. As individual community members, we can all attend school board meetings, city council meetings and community gatherings to offer our perspectives and generate that critical, shared sense of urgency.

Collective impact is not simply a new buzzword to describe collaborations and partnerships of all types. Instead, if implemented with intention, the framework holds potential to create lasting change. Leaders are recognizing that solving complex social problems is more effective when isolated programs and interventions become systems of shared vision and coordinated effort. Collective impact work is time-intensive, messy and sometimes uncomfortable. Yet when we are talking about the well-being of our future workforce and leaders – our kids – collective impact is also an approach that can provide the insights, connections, energy and optimism needed to tackle our biggest challenges.

EVERY HOOSIER ADULT IS A MANDATED REPORTER OF SUSPECTED CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT. TO SUBMIT A REPORT, CALL THE STATE’S HOTLINE AT 1-800-800-5556. IT’S OPEN 24 HOURS A DAY, 7 DAYS A WEEK, 365 DAYS A YEAR.

The number of cases of abused and neglected children in Indiana continues to grow, and 2016 marked the fifth straight year of increases. While the statistics are staggering, the individual stories are heart-wrenching. Recent cases include a 9-year-old dying from starvation in Vigo County, a 2-year-old boy beaten to death in Marion County, and a 1-year-old girl sexually abused and killed in Owen County. For every 1,000 children in Indiana, there were 17 cases of child abuse or neglect in 2015. April is National Child Abuse Prevention month and clearly more needs to be done to protect our children.

Every adult in the state of Indiana is a mandatory reporter of suspected child abuse and neglect. But how do you know what actions correspond to the legal definitions of abuse or neglect? The above cases obviously do, yet many cases are not so clear cut.  Furthermore, many children in such situations understandably are too frightened to tell anyone what is happening.

Indiana’s Child Abuse and Neglect Law, Indiana Code 31-34-1, lists definitions for child neglect, physical abuse, psychological maltreatment and sexual abuse. Prevent Child Abuse Indiana’s website, www.pcain.org, offers straightforward lists of both physical and behavioral indicators of each category of maltreatment. Signs of neglect include persistent hunger, developmental lags and consistent fatigue. Unexplained bruises, numerous bruises in various stages of healing, and marks on many surfaces of the body are all potential signs of physical abuse. Sexual abuse indicators include the child having sexual knowledge advanced for their age, preoccupation with their body, and acting out sexual behavior. Although each of these signs may be found separately, they often occur in combination.

The complexity of child abuse cases has increased in recent years, with severe physical abuse often connected to parental drug and alcohol use and mental illness in the home. In 2016, the child advocacy centers in Indiana served more than 10,000 children for the first time through their multi-disciplinary investigative team model. Historically, the majority of cases centered on child sexual abuse. Today, cases often involve parental addictions, children witnessing domestic violence and human trafficking. There also has been an increase in very severe neglect cases.

“We’re talking about the serious neglect cases where kids are locked in a room and forgotten,” said Emily Perry, founder, executive director and child forensic interviewer for child advocacy center Susie’s Place. “Parents aren’t feeding them for days or weeks because (the parents are) strung out on drugs.”

In 2016, 52 percent of children removed from their home by the Indiana Department of Child Services were removed because of parental substance abuse. This is a 65 percent increase from 2013. In 2015, DCS substantiated 2,702 cases of sexual abuse, 2,175 cases of physical abuse and 22,015 cases of neglect statewide.

As all adults are mandatory reporters, it is critical that we be familiar with how to report child abuse. A hotline report must be made if you have a reasonable suspicion that child abuse or neglect has occurred. You do not need to have direct knowledge of abuse or neglect. James Wide, ‎Deputy Director of Communications for DCS says “That’s the main, core message. You don’t have to do a lot of deliberating and thinking about ‘Is this right? Is this wrong? Is that abuse?’ Just call. You just call.” Hopefully, the increasing number of hotline calls are an indication that more Hoosiers are willing to step up and help protect our children.

Horrific stories of child abuse and neglect could easily immobilize us. Yet our children’s safety requires action. As a caring family member, neighbor, teacher, coach or youth worker, you may be in the ideal position to see that something is not right in a child’s life. Call the Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-800-5556. Locate your nearest Prevention Council (www.pcain.org) or Child Advocacy Center (www.incacs.org) to donate and/or volunteer. April is designated as Child Abuse Prevention Month, but the work of protecting our children is something we must all do 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

(Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI)