April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and a full slate of activities is on tap throughout the month to rally the community about the importance of protecting children.
Sampson Department of Social Services officials and others are seeking to shed light on the issue of child abuse and neglect in hopes that all children can live in stable, loving and stimulating environments — at home, in school and in the community.
Lynn Fields, DSS social work program manager, said activities will kick off this Friday, April 8.
“We are asking everybody to sound the alarm for child abuse prevention,” Fields said of the Friday effort. “We are asking local law enforcement, businesses, schools and different agencies to stop what they’re doing at 10 a.m. and to sound whatever alarm they can, whether it is a whistle, a siren, whatever it is for about 30 seconds in honor of child abuse awareness. We’d like them to follow that with a few seconds of silence.”
The following Friday, April 15, will be Wear Blue Day, another step toward raising awareness as blue, specifically ribbons and pinwheels, denote Child Abuse Prevention. Likewise, Sunday, April 24, is Blue Sunday, a way to take that awareness campaign into local churches. With Blue Sunday, people are encouraged to have their pastors or special speakers offer a few words about child abuse prevention, as well as possibly take up an offering toward the cause, potentially assisting the Child Advocacy Center.
The campaign will include social media challenges throughout the month, including “Pass the Pinwheel.” And the pinwheel effort won’t simply be limited to Facebook, but will be very tangible as it was last year. A date has not been set as of yet, but there will be a pinwheel garden planted sometime this month, Fields said.
“We are going to plant about 500 pinwheels close to the courthouse to promote healthy childhoods and get that child abuse awareness out there,” Fields said.
A year ago, more than 100 pinwheels were planted at the Clinton City Market, each representing eight children for the 824 cases of child abuse and neglect investigated by Sampson DSS in 2014. That event was organized by DSS, the Child Advocacy Center, Sampson County Community Child Protection Team (CCPT), Clinton City Schools, Duplin-Sampson Community Collaborative, Eastpointe, Easter Seals and the Clinton Main Street Program.
Shannon Blanchard, director of the Sampson Child Advocacy Center, gave an update on the center and discussed assessed needs in helping abused children locally.
“One of the first key factors we are seeing is the lack of consistent, effective mental health services for families without Medicaid or who cannot afford insurance,” Blanchard said, detailing the CCPT’s annual report of sex and severe physical abuse cases. “DSS is seeing a lot of cases of child abuse when mental health services are needed for those families and they are unable to access those.”
Lack of resources for Spanish-speaking families is also an issue, she noted.
Fully-functioning now, the Sampson Child Advocacy Center served 125 sexually abused or severely physically abused children last year — 102 of those were sex abuse cases. Forensic interviews are offered daily and medical exams are provided at the center by a medical profession three times a month.
The Child Advocacy Center is a neutral place that offers a safe haven for abused children in order to minimize trauma to victims of abuse and their non-offending family members by providing a centralized, safe and child-friendly facility. From the facility a multidisciplinary team conducts investigation and intervention activities and child victims have advocates who are able to properly represent their interests throughout the ordeal.
Fulfilling that mission has its challenges.
“The CAC has lots of needs still, one of them being a location,” Blanchard noted. The CAC is currently housed in the DSS building. “We also want a medical professional who is local and available more than three days a month. We are not able to serve medically the children we need to in this county if we only have that service three days a month. That’s a huge need for our center.”
This year, the CAC also was able to team up with the United Way of Sampson County, helping to offset the cost of the medical professional. More staffing for the center would also help.
“There are services we are not able to provide, such as the child advocacy where somebody follows that child from the time when a case is initiated, goes through court and is disposed of to help them prepare and be there for them,” said Blanchard, who previously served in that role but is spread thin as the CAC’s only employee currently. Among her duties, she conducts all of the forensic interviews.
“Another benefit of having our own location is having more room, and we can have more employees to fill those roles,” said Blanchard.
On Monday, commissioners adopted a resolution proclaiming April as Child Abuse Prevention Month in Sampson County, calling on the community to do everything it can to spread awareness. It is a community issue, they said.
“Preventing child abuse and neglect is a community responsibility affecting both the current and future quality of life of a community,” the resolution stated. “The majority of child abuse cases stem from situations and conditions that are preventable in an engaged and supportive community.”
Effective child abuse prevention programs succeed due to partnerships created among citizens, social service agencies, schools, churches, civic organizations, law enforcement agencies and the business community, local officials said.
“We call upon all citizens, community agencies, faith groups, medical facilities, elected leaders and businesses to increase their participation in our efforts to support families,” the board stated in its resolution, “thereby preventing child abuse and strengthening the communities in which we live.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.