There are many kinds of terrorists in the world. And while the news media communicates the threat of those who, for the most part, are from other countries, the abused child’s entire physiology is often bound up in reactivity to the moods and behavior of a predator living in her or his own home. Though we can turn our TV’s off when up-to-the-minute news raises our anxiety, the abused child lives in a terror from which there is no escape, unless someone in that child’s world intervenes. This week, in this month that is both National Child Abuse Prevention and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I’d like to introduce you to 12 exemplary projects around the country which are designed to promote awareness, touch the heart, give hope, and propel action.
Dr. Stephen Boos, medical director of Family Advocacy Center, part of Baystate Children’s Hospital in Springfield, Massachussettes, citing research that adds up to a staggering 4 million children being abused or neglected each year (http://www.masslive.com), expressed his concern for the plight of of these children, whether their abuse is emotional, physical, or sexual, and suggested his belief that in any community, three things need to be accomplished: raise resilient children; prevent child abuse of any type; and be sensitive to and able to identify any possible abuse circumstances as soon as possible, so as to end them and begin appropriate treatment.
Many communities have developed programs that relate in one way or another to Dr. Boos’ suggestion. Here are 12 initiatives that are occurring in various places around the United States because of National Child Abuse Prevention Month:
1. Balloon Release. Family Advocacy Center of Hopkins County, Kentucky, began the month by releasing 36 blue balloons, in remembrance of the nine deaths and 27 near-deaths in their county, caused by child maltreatment.(www.surfky.com)
2. "Be the Change for Children" Campaign of the Children’s Advocacy Center of North and Northwest Cook County, Illinois began the month with a goal to raise funds through the collection of small change and to impact statistics and warning signs. They set out donation canisters at various venues around town and beside the canisters they have print-outs of a one-page child abuse information sheet for folks to pick up when they come by. (www.makechangeforchildren.com)
3. Blue Kite Campaign. Folks in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in an effort to raise money for family and childcare resources, are selling kite pin-ups at a variety of locations during the month of April. Dean Raasch, Family and Childcare Resources Board Member says: This year our goal again is to sell at least one blue kite for one suspected report of childhood abuse and neglect in our communities, which means we’ll be selling 4,631 kites in 2014 (www.wbay.com)
4 Blue Ribbon Campaign. The blue ribbon became the symbol of child abuse prevention when a Virginia grandmother tied a blue ribbon to the antenna of her van after her grandson was fatally abused, as a signal to her community of her commitment to involve everyone. Her action – the action of one person, has evolved into a national campaign, with millions of blue ribbons across the country every April to demonstrate a commitment to preventing child abuse and protecting all children. I found reports that folks in Ashville, NC began the month of April wearing blue ribbons pinned to their clothes, and that in Mendocinno, Calif. the police and fire departments and the Sheriff’s Department all placed a blue ribbon on their department vehicles. (www.wfos.com )
5. Blue to Better Campaign. This campaign, in Coos Bay, Oregon, includes wearing blue bracelets and stringing blue lights around all the local businesses in a effort to spark conversation. Why? Because, as Jessica Lowry from the Children’s Hope Center says, “Child abuse is one of those topics that nobody seems to want to talk about. It’s not comfortable, and so we really want to shed light on the issues of our community.” (www.kcby.com)
6.Champions for Children Breakfast. Held in Athens, Ohio this event is one where elected officials, organizations, agencies, and individuals are recognized for their efforts in advocating, protecting, and supporting the needs and well-being of children.(www.athensohiotoday.com)
7. "Don't Shake" This special program is designed for working with high school children to educate students about shaken baby syndrome. The school purchases special dolls that show the brain of a baby and show how little shaking is actually needed to cause damage. “It does take a community to prevent child abuse; they are all our children,” said Helen Lehman, Administer for Hocking/Ross/Vinton County Children’s Services in Ohio, where the program has been implemented. (www.ccao.org).
8. Million March Against Child Abuse. This is a non-partisan, grass-roots, nationwide effort to unite all child advocates in peaceful demonstrations against crimes against children. The walks are intended to raise awareness of child abuse, child sex trafficking, crimes against children, and to ask lawmakers for tougher sentencing of abusers. In Aztec, California 15 people also lined the street in front of the Eleventh Judicial District Court and held signs that read: “Honk if you’re against child abuse. Honk if you’re for child protection reform.” (www.Daily-times.com 1/5/14).
9. Paint the Town Blue. Kevin Roach, Whaley Children’s Center, in Michigan’s President and CEO says “our goal is to inform the community about the prevalence of abuse and neglect in our community. It’s important that the community understands that each of us has a critical role to play in preventing child abuse and neglect of the most vulnerable among us ( www.whaleychildren.org). Whaley county has a ceremonial balloon release commemorating the 1,640 children who died nationwide from abuse and neglect in 1012. Churches ring bells 18 times at 2pm in memory of the 18 children who died last year in Genesse county from abuse and neglect. Throughout the day members of the community are invited to Whaley Children’s Center to write letters to their legislators. Citizens also wear blue cothing on Wear Blue Day and there is an evening candelight vigil at 9 pm in remembrance of the children who’ve lost their lives as a result of abuse and neglect. For more information to go www.painthtetownblue.org .
10. Pinwheels. Like a blue ribbon, a blue pinwheel is the national symbol of child abuse prevention. Nearly 2.3 million pnwheels have been displayed. Robin Webb, public relations coordinator for Athens County Children’s Services in Ohio said, “We believe that having one pinwheel for every adult who took a stand to protect a child during one year, will have a powerful visual effect and will encourage others to raise their voice when they suspect neglect or abuse.
The Children’s Action Committee (CAC) brought some to Mendoccino, California asking community members to plant a pinwheel garden. The CAC will provide pinwheels and pens.
11. Public Reporting. Prevent Child Abuse Louisianna’s vision was that each horrific story in the newspaper will be accompanied by parenting and prevention information. Neglect is the most common form of child abuse and is often associated with parental substance abuse, untreatred mental health issues, or parents who lack emotional stability or maturity; even in those children who survive, long-term neglect can negatively impact the development of a child’s brain, resulting in depression, issues related to coping with stress and learning difficulties later in life.”
12. Wear Blue Day. In Athens County, Ohio they celebrated by wearing blue and sharing a photo with Athens County Children’s Services who post it on the web or facebook. In Albuquerque, New Mexico people wear blue and gather in the Convention Center to speak about the issue and to raise awareness. “Blue Out” Day is a variation which encourages people to wear blue in an effort to raise awareness of child abuse prevention. (www.toledofreepress.com)
Years ago, while I was a patient in therapy myself, and struggling with PTSD as a result of having been abused as a child, I came across a greeting card that spoke to me in a cleverly expressed, sort of whimsical, joyful way. It reminded me of my feelings for my own children and it resonated with the part of me that was beginning to break through the shame of incest, and love myself. The card was published by Decorum in Bristol, England. On the front there was a picture of the back view of a child standing on a ladder, holding a large pot of paint in one hand, and with the other hand she was painting the sky blue. Inside the card was this clever message – again, sort of whimsical:
“Did you know
that my love for you
is a pot of blue paint.
And just to prove it
I’ll paint the sky
one midsummer’s night,
And in the morning
you will see
the enormity of it.”
Most of us are aware of the enormity of the problem, but are the hurting children in our communities aware of the enormity of our love for them? What can your community do to paint their skies blue, and how can you be a part of that effort?
*If you suspect that a child is being abused, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at (800) 4-A-CHILD or (800)422-4453
* I'd like to express a word of gratitude to reporters involved with the newspapers where these initiatives were covered. Thank you for acknowledging the importance of each.