By Phil Redmond and Tamika Williams
2020. Words and images flood the mind. COVID-19, masks, social distance, Zoom, overcrowded hospitals, shuttered businesses, empty classrooms, cancelled graduations, proms and family vacations, isolation, sickness and far too many untimely deaths. There were also the tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the social unrest that followed. On top of that: countless political ads and rhetoric and days of uncertain election results.
The uncertainties created by the events of last year were challenging and traumatic for vast segments of the population. Often used aphorisms are rarely helpful or true – but as a new year begins, “hope springs eternal” keeps coming to mind. Even in the aftershock of sickness and social upheaval, we witnessed the triumph of the human spirit as communities rallied to encourage and support one another.
As we enter 2021 and consider our work, we recognize there are significant concerns regarding unreported child abuse, undiagnosed and untreated mental health issues, and potentially poor educational outcomes caused by the loss of in-class instructional time. Still, we believe the negative consequences for our children, while significant, could have been much more devastating but for one reason: Family.
In the Indenture of Trust that established The Duke Endowment in 1924, James B. Duke noted that nothing “can take the place of a home and its influences.” Nearly 100 years later, his words about the importance of family seem prophetic.
Family, in its many shapes, sizes and colors -- adoptive, foster, kinship, biological, single parent -- buffered the majority of our children from last year’s storms. Families and parents assumed new roles -- teacher, counselor, daycare provider, Sunday school teacher, social worker, nurse, referee, event planner, and IT specialist. The family unit became the stabilizing force for children in a confusing, ever-changing and sometimes volatile world. As Tamika and I reflect on our own childhoods in rural, under-resourced parts of North Carolina, we are reminded of the many roles our nuclear and extended family members played to protect and ensure our well-being. While research indicates that communities with more two-parent families are highly correlated with upward mobility, we know that families are not perfect, and one size does not fit all. In any form may they take, families are critical in the growing and nurturing of children. We especially like this quote from an anonymous writer as a starting point: “FAMILY is anyone that loves you unconditionally.”
At The Duke Endowment, the Child and Family Well-Being program area is charged with supporting Mr. Duke’s vision to help children who are at-risk for, or have already experienced, child abuse and neglect. Our grantmaking strategies focus on supporting programs that we know work to improve parent, child and family outcomes, and therefore reduce the impact of child abuse and neglect. We believe these strategies were effective even during these unprecedented times.
In 2021, one goal of the Child and Family Well-Being program area is to use our various communication platforms – blogs, newsletters, webinars and Facebook – to celebrate and highlight the important role of families, including foster and kinship families, in helping prevent or respond to abuse and neglect so that all children reach their potential.
We look forward to learning from and with you in 2021.
Phil Redmond and Tamika Williams are Director and Associate Director, respectively, of the Child and Family Well-Being program area.