April set aside as Child Abuse Awareness Month

Published 9:05 am Monday, April 18, 2011

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time to raise awareness about child abuse and neglect, and to create support for the children and families of child abuse.

The Escambia County Regional Child Advocacy Center in Brewton chose this past week to go into the county and city schools to educate children about child abuse.

“Our goal is to work on prevention of sexual abuse,” said Cheryl Neal, who is a victim and family advocate. “We go into the schools and talk to the children about what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. We give out pencils, bracelets, and coloring books to the children and a letter to take home to their parents.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Statistics of child abuse are shocking. According to Stephanie Jackson, who is the executive director and forensic interviewer at the Escambia County Regional Child Advocacy Center ‘Kathy Hill Child Advocacy Center,’ over 3 million reports of child abuse are made every year in the United States; a report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds; almost five children die every day as a result of child abuse; more than three out of four children are under the age of four; child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and all levels of education; 14 percent of all men and 36 percent of all women in prison in the U.S. were abused as children; and children who experience child abuse and neglect are 59 percent more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28 percent more likely to be arrested as an adult and 30 percent more likely to commit a violent crime. A child needs to know that it is not his/her fault in a situation of abuse or neglect.

“One of the most helpful things that a concerned adult can do for a child is to keep an open mind about the possibility of sexual abuse,” Jackson said. “A sudden change in a child’s behavior or a child’s statement alluding to some unhappiness may be a sign of real problems. Asking open-ended questions may prompt the child to disclose something that is happening at home, and may be the first step toward protecting the child.”

According to Neal, staff members at the Advocacy Center respond to law enforcement officers and the Department of Human Resources when there is a potential victim of abuse.

“We offer a friendly environment for the children,” she said. “That gives them the opportunity to express what they are really feeling and we can help decide if the case should be brought before the district attorney to determine how it should be handled.”

The Child Advocacy Center was founded in 2002 to facilitate investigation and prosecution of child abuse, severe physical abuse or neglect. The Center receives referrals form DHR, the district attorney’s office and law enforcement.

“We, at the Child Advocacy Center, interview children in a child-friendly setting with the goal of obtaining detailed information,” Jackson said. “Our primary goal is to promote the protection of children and to hold offenders accountable for the abuse and neglect.”

For any additional information or help, contact the Advocacy Center at 251-809-2906.