Book Supports Plain Community Abuse Awareness

Jeanette Harder had not even received a printed copy of her new book when she learned that 740 fresh-off-the-press copies had been handed out at a conference. 

Dr. Harder, cofounder of Dove’s Nest, authored For the Sake of a Child: Love, Safety, and Abuse in Our Plain Communities (Ridgeway Publishing, 2019) with Allen Hoover, a horse-and-buggy Old Order Mennonite.

The planning committee of the Anabaptist Awareness Symposium on Sexual Abuse that took place in November 2019 in Ephrata, PA, heard about the book and wanted to get its message of child protection out to Plain communities.

The timing worked well. The generous donor for the books said, “We are enormously grateful to the hard work of [the authors]. There were likely hundreds more business owners or individuals sitting in the audience that day who would have jumped at the chance to support the cause if they had the opportunity.”

In addition to the donated copies, 1,500 copies sold in just the first week. Within a month, the publisher issued a second printing of 2,000 copies. And within three months, it needed to go to a third printing as Amish and Old Order Mennonite leaders across the country ordered hundreds of copies to distribute to families in their communities.

Harder and Hoover met at Mennonite World Conference in Harrisburg, PA, back in 2015. Teaming up for this book project was something that surprised them both, but each knew the need was there and that God was leading them.

Hoover says when they initially met, he wondered how much they had in common and how they would trust each other. “But there were things we did have in common,” he says. “We were both involved in our communities as liaisons with [state agencies in child abuse situations]. And we both had a passion to keep the children of our communities safe.”

Harder and Hoover agree that a significant strength of the book is that it was written collaboratively by someone inside the Plain community and someone from the outside. “God has been with us, and now, almost three years later, the book is in the hands of my people,” says Hoover.

“In our first conversation about writing a book together,” Harder says, “Allen asked me what we would do when we disagreed. And I said, ‘We’ll work it out!’ And that’s just what we did!”  

The intended audience for the book is Amish and Old Order Mennonite parents. The book is short, accessible, full of stories, and empowers readers to gain positive parenting skills, recognize and report abuse, and keep children safe.

Chapter topics include types of abuse and neglect, recognizing and reporting abuse, preventing abuse, getting help, roles of social services, and more.

The story of the Christian Aid Ministries missionary who abused boys in Haiti, the series of articles from the Post-Gazette, and the recent article in Cosmopolitan have all brought these issue to the forefront both outside and within Plain communities in the past year.

Dove’s Nest also offers professional cultural awareness trainings for social service systems and workers to relate effectively with Plain communities. It is one of the only organizations that offers these in-person and online trainings, which provide an overview of the Plain community faith and culture, discuss unique strengths and vulnerabilities of these religious groups, and introduce strategies for keeping Amish and Old Order Mennonite children and youth safe.

The trainings help participants prepare to conduct investigations and create safety plans, connect individuals to needed services, and recruit and support foster and adoptive homes in these conservative communities.

Through networking and relationship building, Harder includes a panel of members from the Plain communities at the trainings, when possible, so social service workers can hear directly from this population.

A member of the Plain community said of the trainings: “We may do things different as conservative people, but we still have the same goals. We want to make sure our loved ones are safe.”

Since 2015, Jeanette Harder has led 12 Plain community cultural awareness trainings for over 425 participants representing at least 94 different agencies. This year Dove’s Nest brought on an additional speaker to provide these trainings—Charles Jantzi, a professor of psychology at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. He has also served as a family and individual therapist for over 30 years and has worked with members of Plain communities.