Focusing on child abuse prevention
The blue pinwheels are out around town again, and blue ribbons are available in multiple community locations for residents to wear.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and multiple organizations are teaming up to raise awareness of child abuse and help people protect kids who might be at risk or are suffering abuse.
KIDS Center, a nonprofit dedicated to the prevention, evaluation and treatment of child abuse in Central Oregon, is joining MountainStar Family Relief Nursery, which works with vulnerable Central Oregon families to keep kids safe from abuse and neglect, to move the prevention effort forward this month. The organizations are once again focusing on the Blue Ribbon Campaign and have placed blue pinwheels at Prineville Police Department, at schools and at other places around Prineville.
"While this year is still a bit different due to precautions brought on by the pandemic, there are still ways that it can be visible throughout the county," said Rachel Visser, prevention education manager for KIDS Center.
The blue ribbons date back to 1989, when Bonnie Finney, from Virginia, lost her 3-year-old grandson to the abuse by her daughter's partner and began to tie blue ribbons to her car representing the color of the bruises on her grandson's body. During the last 30 years, this action developed into the Blue Ribbon Campaign and has grown into a nation-wide event, bringing communities together to protect children.
The pinwheels originated in 2008, when Prevent Child Abuse America introduced the symbol to child abuse prevention. A pinwheel is a symbol not only of the "childlike whimsy and lightheartedness," but also of the desire for a world where every child has the ability to grow up healthy, happy and prepared to succeed in families and communities that are supportive.
Visser went on to say that the organizations wanted to not only find ways that would bring awareness to the issues, but partner with local businesses to bring the community together in support of protecting children.
"This year we have several local coffee shops — Prineville Coffee Company, Rae's Coffee Stand in Powell Butte, Upright Coffee Company, Friends Espresso and Angelina's Coffee Company — that will have stickers on their cups that have QR codes that will link to our websites, which will have ways for you to practice prevention in your own life," she said.
Visser went on to add that they will once again have prevention trainings available to the public, all of which are virtual. You can learn how to protect children from the comfort of your own home and without having to travel to a specific location. More information on those programs can be found at kidscenter.org/prevention-trainings.
Every year, child abuse is a local concern, but the COVID-19 pandemic has created an even greater cause for concern and need for awareness than usual.
"This past year, because of the lockdowns, the risk for children experiencing abuse skyrocketed," Visser said. "Unfortunately, we don't know all of the impacts children were exposed to due to the pandemic. We are still too close to the event itself. What we do know is that the reporting of child abuse disclosures, discoveries and suspicions dropped over 70% at the beginning of the pandemic and continued to show lower reporting numbers as the months went on. Children were not in front of mandatory reporters — our teachers, afterschool programs, etc. — for a larger portion of this past year."
In a recent MountainStar newsletter, the organization pointed out that the pandemic added fear, health concerns and other worries to the typical 14 stressors that vulnerable families normally face.
"In 2020, unemployment and houselessness increased across our region," the nonprofit stated, "and even families who continued to work faced the strain of schools and childcare facilities closing."
Also, during the month of April, local Child Abuse Prevention Month organizers want to honor their Prevention Partners of the Year — Fortis Construction and St. Vincent de Paul of Crook County Food Pantry — which Visser said went above and beyond with resources and time dedicated to supporting child abuse prevention in Crook County.
Visser noted that child abuse is a difficult subject to discuss and acknowledged that the situations that children face are complex, but she stresses that even one person can make a difference in a child's life.
"One person can change the course of a child's life by being aware of the fact that abuse does happen in all communities, that being educated about abuse and the signs that can be present is a great start at learning how to protect children, and that getting involved can be as simple as starting a conversation with other adults about child abuse prevention," she said. "The more we can talk about child abuse openly, the less secrecy can be used to dissuade children from getting help."
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