Child abuse

A display of 634 glimmering pinwheels towers alongside the steps at the armory on Front Street in Marietta, a reminder of Child Abuse Awareness Month there to make people think about a problem that the community can help prevent.

Each pinwheel represents one investigation into a case of child abuse in Washington County for the year 2012, the most recent fiscal year the agency has a complete report on.

To kick off April, when the awareness month takes place, the agency held its Lights of Hope Ceremony Wednesday evening in its building with a small room full of blue glow sticks.

“The blue represents the bruises children often get when they are abused,” said Alice Stewart, assistant director of Washington County Children Services. “Our children are the most vulnerable group in our community, and they depend on us to be the voice they need.”

Information on signs of abuse is available at the agency’s website, and Children Services has a 24-hour number to call to report abuse. That number is 373-3485.

In Washington County alone, 1,105 children were involved in cases brought to the agency in 2012. Neglect cases are the most common with 61 cases; followed by physical abuse with 59; sexual abuse with 39 and classified “other” cases totaling 15.

Agency caseworkers, sporting blue tie dyed shirts, communicated a clear purpose in having an entire month dedicated to child abuse awareness.

“Prevention is the primary focus of the month in addition to creating and promoting awareness,” said Amanda Herron, a protective services caseworker for the agency. “We do have a prevalence of abuse and neglect in this area, and as a community we can work to help prevent it.”

The event was a small gathering that featured Duane Huck, a Washington County resident who together with his wife is raising five children; three of whom are adopted.

“We needed to be able to give children a chance and give them an opportunity they never had,” Huck said, reminding those in attendance that being a foster and adoptive parent is not easy, but it is worth doing.

Huck said the community has a responsibility to watch out for its children, and encourages people to fight for their own families first, then fight for others’ families.

“Every child should live in a safe, secure home where they are protected, loved and nourished and able to pursue their dreams,” he said. “But unfortunately, some aren’t in the right place at the right time.”

The county agency also participated in the Pinwheels of Prevention program, founded in 2008, which is the source of the display on Front Street.

Stewart said the local numbers on child abuse cases are on par with other areas, and said any fluctuations can usually be chalked up to population.

“It’s a problem in every community, not just ours and not just others,” she said.

Jamie Keller, a Little Hocking resident, made the decision to become a foster parent just two years ago.

“We saw this as being a last resort for options on how we could start a family, but we didn’t realize how many people in the community need this,” Keller said. “It’s not easy, but it’s an important thing to recognize.”

On April 9, the agency will be recognizing and celebrating Wear Blue to Work Day, a statewide campaign in which everyone is encouraged to don blue to help raise awareness.

Following that on April 27 is the third annual Washington County Children Services Child Abuse and Prevention Awareness Walk, held in East Muskingum Park in Marietta.

The event will include inflatables, food and giveaways, and agency staff will be distributing prevention materials.

“There are people fortunate enough to not be aware of what we do because they do not require our help, but for those that do, we want to remind them all that it takes a community to do all of this,” Herron said.