'One child abused in one too many'
by Emily Adams
Linda Burton and Ollie Kates of SAFE hold blue pinwheels representing a child’s freedom from the grip of child abuse. SAFE and other organizations in the county are recognizing April as Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month.
SYLACAUGA – The city is looking a bit blue this month in an effort to send an important message to citizens.

SAFE Family Services Center, along with other organizations in the county, is recognizing April as Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month, an annual and national event to get people talking about the signs and effects of child abuse.

“One child abused is one child too many, and we want everybody to be aware this is an issue that is occurring right here in Sylacauga,” said Linda Burton, CRIB program coordinator at SAFE.

Blue ribbons scattered around town represent the bruises children suffer at the hands of abusers. Similarly, blue pinwheels lining sidewalks at City Hall and SAFE symbolize the childhood freedom and the promise that every child deserves a healthy, safe environment. SAFE encourages businesses to purchase a blue ribbon from local florists.

The organization is also hosting a rally against abuse April 9 at 9 a.m. at City Hall, where children will release blue balloons around the flag pole. Nichole Parker, director of the county Department of Human Resources, will speak, as will Mayor Doug Murphree and other guests.

Burton said the blue ribbon campaign is a catalyst for a deeper conversation about child abuse – from the warning signs to making a report to building healthy home relationships.

“Abuse and neglect occur in a wide range of physical, emotional and sexual factors,” she said. “Even failing to provide enough food, shelter and clothing is a form of neglect, and sometimes parents don’t realize their treatment falls into this category. It is our duty to take care of our children.”

In the past year, there were 479 reports of child abuse in Talladega County, up from 432 the previous year. This number still doesn’t account for the individual children affected or the cases of abuse that went unreported, said Ollie Kates, Responsible Fatherhood case manager and Healthy Marriage co-facilitator at SAFE.

“People are often hesitant to get involved with reporting suspected child abuse, but we have to remember it can be done completely anonymously, and it doesn’t mean the children will be taken away from their parents,” Kates said. “If it does come to that point, that’s fine, but we want to keep the children safe, first and foremost.”

It is important for the public to recognize potential signs of child abuse or neglect, which should always be reported to DHR or local law enforcement, Kates said.

An abuser is most often someone the child knows, such as a parent, relative, neighbor, family friend or even a younger sibling, according to information from SAFE. Children who have been abused or neglected may be: nervous around or afraid of certain adults, reluctant to go home, passive and withdrawn or aggressive and disruptive, often tired or complaining of not sleeping well, anxious or showing sudden changes in behavior or school performance.

Possible signs of physical abuse are unexplained burns, bruises, black eyes or injuries; apparent fear of a parent or caretaker; faded bruises or healing injuries; injuries that do not match the explanation. Signs of sexual abuse include difficulty walking or sitting or other indications of genital injury, sexual knowledge or behavior beyond what is normal for the child’s age and running away from home. Children experiencing neglect may frequently miss school, beg for or steal money for food, lack needed medical or dental care, appear dirty, use alcohol or drugs or say there is no one at home to care for them.

To report suspected abuse or neglect, contact DHR at 256-761-6600 or call the Sheriff’s Office after-hours at 256-761-6117. When reporting, identify if you are a mandated reporter; tell them if you think it is an emergency; report the facts about what you have seen or heard to make you think abuse is present; and give as much information about the suspected abuser as possible.

A safe environment for children starts with healthy relationships among family and friends, Burton said, and SAFE operates numerous parenthood and marriage programs to support just that.

“The home should always be a safe haven, and for some children it is not,” Burton said. “Even when April is gone, it is still very important for us to take this information we have to provide a safe place for children.”

For more information on child abuse awareness, contact SAFE at 256-245-4343.

Contact Emily Adams at eadams@dailyhome.com.

© 2013