This is part of a continuing series of profiles on people and organizations on the front lines with One Place in protecting and serving children and their families in Onslow County. This entry focuses on the partnership with a community task force, TASCO (Turning Adversity into Success for Children in Onslow).
TASCO is a community-based task force that aims to build a greater understanding of child abuse among Onslow County residents and unlock solutions to what has long been a troubling problem.
“We are solution focused,” said Tondrea Leach, executive director of PEERS. PEERS is a Jacksonville-based non-profit family development center that coordinates TASCO’s activities. “We are hoping to understand what the needs of the community are and find what the solutions are from the community,” Leach said.
Created under a framework developed by Prevent Child Abuse of North Carolina, TASCO has faced a series of unexpected obstacles since it began as a partnership between Onslow County and the City of Jacksonville in the spring of 2018. First, hurricane Florence halted the group’s work in September of that year, and the recovery process required months. About a year after the group began meeting again in January 2019, COVID restrictions began to hinder its activities, though work continued toward defining and tackling its goals.
In a brief about the work of TASCO, Leach wrote that the initial efforts addressed two questions: “How do we create a system in our community to help decrease child abuse and neglect? How do we develop a system for families to utilize for the prevention and intervention services to include parent education and family support services available in our community for all children and their families?”
County and municipal governments tapped PEERS, a 45-year-old non-profit with public and private funding sources. Its name—an acronym for Parents, Education, Empathy, Rapport and Support—describes its mission. The TASCO task force has grown to include more than 60 people representing about 40 organizations. Members—from agencies and fields including law enforcement, health care, social work, education, ministry, among others—also play a role in groups that work on other aspects of fighting child abuse and neglect, such as treatment and criminal justice.
TASCO members also participate in the Multidisciplinary Team that serves as a core group for One Place’s Child Advocacy Center – the CAC serves individuals and families who have suffered the impacts of child abuse. However, TASCO has a broader focus on solutions that address community needs, particularly in prevention.
The TASCO task force developed a Community Preventative Action Plan that received approval from both city and county governing boards in October 2020 to guide TASCO’s work. It also developed and released a Community Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Plan in April 2021.
“Our journey has been guided by the wisdom, knowledge and experience of individuals who have helped us lay the groundwork, framework, facilitate our discussions and information recommendations of the group,” Leach wrote in the brief. “The course of change we are looking to make will lead to optimal child development, increased family strengths, a responsive service system and a decrease in child abuse and neglect.”
Leach said the task force follows the time-honored proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and is using that approach for its own motto: “We are your village.”
Katie LeMaire, a parent educator and social worker for PEERS, works with Leach on the task force. LeMaire said the broad approach represents the importance of TASCO’s mission. “We must stand united or fall divided,” she said.
Joe Coffey, director of Community Engagement for One Place, also serves on TASCO. He said he finds the work fits well with his One Place’s roles. “If you are thinking about the problems we are trying to solve—all three of them, strengthening children, connecting families, but in particular ending child abuse—our work (at One Place) preparing children to be safe, healthy and nurtured, really is connected to the same work in the sense of ending child abuse that TASCO is,” Coffey said.
“Their main mission at TASCO is to eliminate child abuse and neglect through community education, awareness, intervention and advocacy. I think what we bring to the table, in addition to those things, is a lens on prevention,” he said.
TASCO has developed four primary goals: 1) Gaining an understanding of ACES, or Adverse Childhood Experiences. 2) Helping children identify feelings and manage emotions. 3) Creating safe physical and emotional environments at home, school and in neighborhoods. 4) Preventing child maltreatment by building the capacity of parents and prevention partners.
Its initial thrust has been working on the first objective, with a goal of holding a series of “community cafes,” open discussion forums aimed at reaching out to parents and any member of the community that has regular contact with children. LeMaire said TASCO believes that once area residents have a full understanding of the definition and impact of adverse child experiences, they will lead the way to solutions.
One Place’s Coffey collaborates with the PEERS staff and other TASCO members to take the fight against child abuse into the community. “One of the things that speaks to that is we are trying to host the community cafes and screen the film ‘Resilience’ so we can spread knowledge about the Five Protective Factors and build resiliency skills. We can ask members of the community what they need resources-wise and what they need more information about.”
Victoria Reyes serves as another example of task force members who branch away from their primary jobs to lend TASCO the professional support it needs. She is the public information officer for the Onslow County Health Department and has stepped up to chair TASCO’s public awareness efforts. Pulling together so many community resources to fight child abuse is both an impressive and challenging concept, she said. “We all have full-time jobs and initiatives with our own jobs. We have TASCO or other groups that we might sit on or might be a chairperson. It requires other resources or brainpower to beef up the content itself.”
Reyes expressed confidence that the new round of community meetings, which kicked off early this year, will provide new energy and direction for TASCO. “We met in April as a smaller group and talked through and asked, ‘What is our message?’” Reyes said. “How can we harness certain partnerships to actively engage? That is something that we all try to battle.” She said collective efforts and a laser-like focus on what the community needs are keys to success.
TASCO is receiving a big assist from another part of county government: Onslow County’s Geographic Information Services (GIS), which is best known for mapping property for taxes and other purposes. But the GIS team also collects data for strategic planning and is helping the task force by providing demographic and other information that allows TASCO to see where it needs to focus on prevention through efforts such as the Community Cafes. This cooperation is an example of how TASCO strives to use resources available from multiple public and private sources to address issues related to helping parents and preventing child abuse.
TASCO members all say they believe the return of in-person gatherings is vital to community conversations and the overall success of TASCO. “We want to put finding the solutions back in the hands of the community,” LeMaire said. “It is a community responsibility.”
Professionals, organizations, churches, civic organizations, schools, child-care centers and other interested groups can contact PEERS for information and programming such as a screening of “Resilience.”
For more information about TASCO’s work, contact PEERS at 910-333-9725. or visit https://tasco-onslow.hub.arcgis.com/.