MADELIA — Tasha Moulton was scared of becoming a parent, and not for the usual reasons.
As a victim of child abuse herself, the St. Peter mom knew the odds were that she would either marry an abuser or become one herself.
But she made a promise to herself never to hit her child — not even a spanking. And she hasn’t.
Moulton stumbled across the nonprofit Prevent Child Abuse Minnesota about three years ago. She has since joined the nonprofit’s board of directors and formed a local chapter for parents, called a Circle of Parents.
It became an outlet for Moulton’s interest in preventing child abuse. She believes the way to stop child abuse isn’t by vilifying parents, but by telling them they’re not alone and helping them be better parents.
She secured a grant from the Mankato Clinic Foundation to provide food at the Circle of Parents meetings. Before the meetings, parents and children share pizza and some time together.
“Meal times are so important,” said Moulton, who is going to college to become a social worker and working a full-time job at night.
On Wednesday, she was honored as the nonprofit’s volunteer of the year.
Her philosophy lines up well with the nonprofit’s. While government social workers carry with them the specter of court intervention, Moulton likes that she can be more informal (though she is required to report suspected child abuse).
“My role is to let them talk,” she said.
Occasionally, talk comes around to the single remaining socially acceptable form of corporate punishment: spankings.
To be clear, Moulton isn’t a spanker. Doesn’t believe it works. But she knows she’s not going to talk some parents out of it.
If you must spank, she says, at least do it right.
First, don’t do it in anger. It’s too easy to lose control and let the spanking turn into something ugly (or uglier, depending on your perspective).
Second, she said the spanking should be done with an open hand, on the buttocks only.
And just as some parents believe spanking is the only way to get their child to listen, Moulton said some parents see little alternative to letting young children stay home alone.
Moulton said about 70 percent of abuse cases are neglect, but she avoids using that word when talking with parents. Instead, she tries to figure out a way for the child to get some adult supervision.
She acknowledges that not all families are ready to get the sort of support she offers. It’s her job, she says, to “find families that are ready.”
While county social workers are typically seen as more heavy-handed, the government’s approach to child safety is looking more and more like Moulton’s.
Linda Billman, a Rochester-based consultant with the Department of Human Services, said more and more counties are adopting the model of working with families, not punishing them.
In her 30 years in the field, Billman said she has met only one person she would call “evil.”
“The majority want what you and I want,” she said.
Listening and working with parents are just better at solving their problems than coming with a pre-set, government-knows-best mindset, she said.