Richland County commissioners convened Thursday morning to proclaim April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month, with this year's theme as "Let's nurture their future for our future."
“Children in Richland County are our most valuable resource and they need our support to thrive and grow into healthy, productive adults,” said Commissioner Tim Wert while reading the proclamation.
He added, “During National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we renew our unwavering commitment to protect the children and to respond to child abuse, promoting healthy families and building a bright future for all.”
Last year, Richland County Children Services received 2,391 reports of maltreatment, 76 percent of which were non-repeat families, informed Richland County Children Services Executive Director Patty Harrelson.
On Wednesday, agency employees and volunteers helped plant 2,391 pinwheels in the lawn outside of the Mansfield Area YMCA. Harrelson said that the pinwheels were provided through a grant from the Ohio Children’s Trust Fund and that they took about 90 minutes to plant. Each pinwheel represents a case of abuse or neglect that was investigated by the agency in 2013. The “Pinwheels for Prevention Display” will be held Friday at the Mansfield Area YMCA at 8:30 a.m.
“The symbolism of those pinwheels is, to me, an indication that the public has a very keen awareness of what the issue is. If those pinwheels represented the number of calls [Richland County Children Services] got and there were only ten pinwheels, then that would be an indication that you’ve got a public that is apathetic to the issue,” said Commissioner Ed Olson.
While physical abuse is commonly associated with child abuse, Olson noted, “This idea of child abuse goes into areas of deprivation, too—whether it’s deprivation of affection, or oversight, or lack of support or education—to me those all are forms of abuse.”
Harrelson agreed and said that abuse in terms of neglect is a much more common form of abuse. However, discerning the difference between neglect and poverty poses a problem.
“There is certainly a fine line in a family’s home between what is poverty, i.e. neglect, because they cannot provide, versus their own willingness or inability to provide when they have the resources,” Harrelson stated.
When facing situations such as those, she said that the agency works to connect struggling families with community resources to help them attain necessities that they may lack, “not because of any fault or habit of the parent, but because it’s not there.”
She highlighted Alternative Response, which is part of the agency and helps assess and rectify family situations without labeling someone as a “bad parent,” Harrelson said.
And although there have been cases in which the agency needed to collaborate with the court system, Harrelson explained, “Our role is to look at the family, look at the what’s happening and see if we can find some community resources to help.”
Jim Kulig, the agency’s board secretary, noted that the preventative work that can be done with children’s services is significant as it pertains to the juvenile justice system. “It’s been known for some time that about 70-80 percent of kids who are maltreated end up touching the juvenile justice system in some way,” he said.
Kulig added, “One of the battle cries of children services, among other agencies in the community…is to never give up, and if you never give up, there’s an opportunity for things to change.”
According to www.childwelfare.gov, the first federal child protection legislation, Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), was signed by President Richard Nixon on Jan. 31, 1974. CAPTA provides federal assistance to states for prevention, identification, and treatment programs. In April of 1983, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed April to be the first National Child Abuse Prevention Month.