By RICK HAYES firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — MT. VERNON — Several events have been scheduled by collaborating Jefferson County agencies to observe Child Abuse Prevention Month in April.
The kickoff event co-sponsored by The Amy Center, CASA, Christian Social Services and Lutheran Child and Family Services will be the fourth annual walk around the Jefferson County Courthouse at noon on Tuesday. Mayor Mary Jane Chesley will sign a proclamation at that time to observe Child Abuse Prevention Month.
The purpose of the walk is to call attention to child abuse.
“There is no registration fee. This is not a fundraiser,” said Becky Whisenhunt of CASA. “It’s an awareness event.” A banner has been placed at the courthouse, and local banks have agreed to place messages on their marquees to mark the observance, it was reported.
Participants are encouraged to wear blue and the blue kids — stationary cutouts of children — will be posted throughout the city. The groups recently received assistance from clients at Southern Thirty Adolescent Center, who offered their assistance with repainting the blue kids.
In addition to the walk, Catholic Social Services will sponsor its annual golf scramble on April 26; and the 21st annual Downstate Conference on Child Abuse will be held April 24 and 25 at the Holiday Inn in Mt. Vernon. The Amy Center is a co-sponsor of that event.
“We had 210 kids in the last fiscal year in the seven counties we serve, and the month of March was the highest number of clients we had received through referrals and for forensic interviewing in the 23 years we’ve been in existence,” said LaDonna Richards, executive director of The Amy Center. “That is sad, it’s not going down.”
Whisenhunt reported there has been a 5.4 increase in the reports of neglect and abuse in Illinois, and Jefferson County reported 341 abuse cases per 10,000 children which translates into one of 25 families in Jefferson County have reported some type of child abuse — which ranks the county third among Southern Illinois counties. Five children die every day in America from abuse and neglect, and in 2011, 1,570 died from abuse and/or neglect, according to figures from the National Children’s Alliance.
Richards believes the tough economic times are responsible for the increase.
“People are stressed because of economics, and therefore, people take it out on their children.”
“Also, I think people becoming more aware of child abuse. People are recognizing it and reporting it,” added Stephanie Perez of Lutheran Child and Family Services. “That could be a reason for the increase in numbers.”
Richards said prevention education programs are presented in the region by her staff, and a case worker reported three incidents of alleged abuse/neglect from one school last week.
“That’s a lot. Percentage wise, it wouldn’t be that much, but three in a week for us is a lot.”