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Hope, enthusiasm mark inaugural conference on child-abuse prevention

Amid the trappings of a conference – the rented space, the catering, the millions of niggling details – it can be easy to forget the whole point. Not so for the attendees of “Building Bridges: Connecting Communities to Prevent Child Abuse,” the first conference organized by the University of Oregon College of Education's nascent 90by30 initiative, held March 8-9 in Eugene. Its mission to reduce child abuse by 90 percent in Lane County 90 by 2030 depends heavily on the buy-in and eager participation of the people involved, which is why the project's future hinged, in no small way, on the conference's success.

Phyllis Barkhurst, the project's director, didn't really know what to expect in terms of attendance and participation. But even without a frame of reference she was very pleased with the results, which included some 137 attendees.

“The participants were a great mix of community and campus members,” she said. “The level of engagement was good; the number one comment on the evaluation forms was a request for even more time for participants to be able to connect with each other – we clearly left them wanting more.”

Among the 94 percent of attendees who said they would gladly return for a second conference was Sharon Peters, a local artist who has long volunteered with many of the agencies upon whom 90by30 will depend. For her, the conference helped crystallize something she already sensed about the effort: that both community partners and creative, dedicated people like her have vital roles to play.

“More and more children are feeling like they have no future,” Peters says. “It becomes incumbent on us to recognize that a partnership is a very strong thing to help broker a change and reach out to people who are hurting. That includes ourselves.”

If genuine concern and enthusiasm were enough to achieve 90by30's ambitions, it would only be a matter of time. But even if it had unlimited resources and universal support, participants would still need to feel hopeful about the efforts prospects for success. That, Barkhurst notes, was the conference's most important achievement.

“The words most often used in the evaluations from participants about their conference experience were 'inspirational, motivational, exceptional, hopeful, optimistic, and connected.' Pre- and post-conference surveys showed that 71 percent of participants believed that child abuse was actually preventable when they started the conference, with more than 96 percent believing it was preventable by the end of the conference. These numbers greatly exceeded our expectations.”

Capitalizing on the momentum generated by the conference is 90by30's next massive challenge, as it tries to align people with resources across one of the largest counties in the Pacific Northwest.

“We are currently preparing for the reality of having thousands of community and campus members join our efforts,” Barkhurst added. “That is wonderful - and daunting – and necessary for us to succeed.”