Tackling abuse

Head of child abuse prevention group spreads message statewide.

By Jennifer Whytock

RALEIGH, N.C. [05.24.04] — Jennifer Tolle Whiteside grew up in a family that encouraged volunteering, and for 20 years she has followed in her mother’s footsteps by working at nonprofits.

A mother herself who tries to balance work and family, Tolle has devoted her professional career to preventing child abuse.

Now, she spends much of her time on Gaining Ground, a new effort to create a statewide approach to preventing child abuse by bringing together government and nonprofit leaders, pushing for policy change and creating a data system to track abuse and measure prevention efforts.

“We will try to give people in the state a better idea of what child-abuse prevention is and isn’t,” she says. “And we will then try to figure out where prevention efforts should go from here.”

As executive director of Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina, a chapter of Chicago-based Prevent Child Abuse America, Tolle Whiteside and her staff of 14 work to help North Carolinians recognize child abuse and build a network to organize prevention efforts throughout the state.

In the year ending June 2003, she says, 107,157 children were reported as abused and neglected.

Most child-protection programs in the U.S. tend to focus on treatment after abuse, and little funding goes to prevention projects, she says, but her group tries to help before children are hurt and teach families how to avoid behaviors that lead to abuse.

Jennifer Tolle Whiteside

Job: Executive director, Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina

Born: 1960, Indiana

Raised: Michigan, Ohio, Florida

Education: Undergraduate,
psychology, University of Florida; master’s in counseling, Louisiana State University

Family: Husband, Ted; daughter, 6

Hobbies: Jewelry-making, spending time with daughter

 Tolle Whiteside started her nonprofit career at Planned Parenthood in Sarasota, Fla., then moved to the Chemical Dependency Treatment Center in Baton Rouge, La., before joining Prevent Child Abuse Louisiana in 1985 and the North Carolina chapter in 1990.

With an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master’s in counseling, she says a business background would have helped her in nonprofit work.

Running a nonprofit is like running any other business, she says, adding she has had to learn on the job how to read financial statements, create a budget, manage staff and handle growth.

Raising money and getting out the abuse-prevention message to the public create challenges, she says, and she sometimes gets frustrated by people who want problems to change immediately and who cannot look five years ahead.

Since 1995 she has served on the Child Fatality Taskforce, which makes recommendations to state lawmakers and the governor on how to better protect children, and has been chair since 1999.

Several of the group’s recommendations have led to new laws, such as the graduated driver’s license, which restricts driving hours and the number of passengers for drivers under 18 years old, and a requirement for working smoke detectors in rental properties.

She also serves on the House Interim Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect, Foster Care and Adoption, which was launched last year to help improve the state’s child protective services.

The committee recently submitted its recommendations to the House, and will stop meeting later this month.

Gaining Ground, the new initiative designed to create a statewide strategy to raise awareness and improve prevention of child abuse, is spearheaded by Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina and funded over several years by the Duke Endowment.

“Before we gave a little bit of service to a lot of groups in the state,” she says, “and now we will sharpen our focus.”

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