GTR organizations bring awareness to child abuse

Parent Cafes program director Barbara Culberson talks child abuse awareness and prevention at Starkville Kiwanis on Tuesday. (Photo by Mary Rumore, SDN)
Staff Writer

In honor of Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention month, which is nationally recognized in April each year, Golden Triangle residents dedicated to stopping child abuse spoke at Starkville Kiwanis on Tuesday.

Abigail Stricklin, outreach coordinator for Sally Kate Winters Family Services in West Point, said SKW serves as a hybrid organization that provides social services for children. SKW began 28 years ago with the shelter service that provides emergency shelter for children in foster care, and from there SKW began providing the Runaway and Homeless Youth Program, transitional living programs and became part of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Mississippi.

Stricklin said CAC deals mostly with child abuse and neglect cases.

“What we do there is, any time a report is made of child abuse or neglect, if it fits our protocol for what we call ‘felony abuse or neglect’, we conduct all the forensic interviews, meet with law enforcement and CPS officials and mental health workers or anyone else involved with that multidisciplinary team, they conduct the interview on the premises at one time,” Stricklin said. “That helps streamline the process of child abuse so the child isn’t re-traumatizedand having to talk about it over and over again.”

Every 10 seconds, one child in the United States is abused according to Barbara Culberson, program director of Parent Cafes - parent-led community groups in which parents share, learn and find support.

Strickin said CAC serves Oktibbeha, Clay, Lowndes and Choctaw counties, and offers courtesy interviews to counties without the resources to do so. SKW programs also serve larger areas of north Mississippi.

Stricklin said SKW serves hundreds of children from across the state each year.

“In the 2017 annual year, we served 408 nights,” Stricklin said. “I say that to put this inperspective. It costs $147 to care for one child for one day. If we served 408 nights worth of children from Oktibbeha County alone, that cost us over $59,000 to care for those children.”

Stricklin said from 2016 to 2017, the number of child abuse cases reported increased from 131 to 226.

“That doesn’t mean that child abuse is increasing,” Stricklin said. “That means it is getting reported more, which is a good thing.”

Child abuse should be reported to local child protective services agency, local law enforcement or to the ChildHelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-1-CHILD “If you do see something, you can report it anonymously,” Culberson said. “And you don’t even have to know if it is true or not. It is not our job to know that. They have trained people to investigate, but it is our responsibility to say something if we see something.”

Child abuse includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect.

Signs of physical abuse include bruises, welts, cuts or other injuries, broken bones and burns. Signs of sexual abuse include torn, stained or bloody underwear, trouble walking or sitting, pain or itching in the genital area, bruised or bleeding genital area and a sexually transmitted disease. Signs of emotional abuse include speech disorders, slowed physical development and extreme behavioral changes. Neglect signs include poor hygiene, slowed physical development or underweight, unattended medical needs and little to no supervision.

Culberson said extreme behavioral changes in children is a common sign of any form of abuse.

Stricklin said the main way to prevent child abuse is to remain aware and report any signs of abuse, even though sexual abuse is the most common and doesn’t always show obvious signs.

Stricklin said 90 percent of the cases at SKW are sexual abuse cases.

Stricklin said the second main way to prevent child abuse is to teach children from a young age what is appropriate and what is not, so that if something happens to them, they will recognize that it is bad.

“You can teach little kids what we call ‘The Bathing Suit Rule,’” Culberson said. “Anything a bathing suit covers, that’s private parts. That’s a really easy thing to teach little kids.”

Throughout the month, many different child abuse prevention events will take place to help raise awareness of the issue.

SKW will host their biggest fundraiser of the year, the 9th annual Spring Into Action 5K and Fun Run, beginning at 8 a.m. April 14 at Sally Kate Winters Memorial Park in West Point.

SKW will also host its annual Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month parade on the morning of April 16. The parade will include pre-K through third graders at West Point schools, who will all wear blue and parade down Main Street in West Point.

Emerson Family School in Starkville will host a Family Picnic at 10 a.m. until noon April 7, including inflatables, games food and information about how to prevent child abuse.

For the first year, there will be an Awareness Vigil at 6 p.m. April 26 at Unity Park in downtown Starkville.

April 29 is Blue Sunday, and everyone is encouraged to wear blue to worship services at church. Every Friday in April is Maroon goes Blue, and everyone is encouraged to wear blue, the color of child abuse awareness, instead of maroon on Fridays.

Emerson Family School also offers cyber bullying and child abuse awareness and reporting classes, and a full schedule is available by contacting the school at (662) 320-4607.