Friday, December 22, 2006

Ribbons aren't enough to help child abuse problem

Awareness can be powerful weapon in ongoing battle against child abuse
Moss, Dale. Louisville Courier-Journal, May 5, 2006, pg. B1.

John Barksdale notices us, we too going broke filling our tanks with gas. Not everyone swallows stress, he realizes.

Barksdale is in the human-services business. He deals with those who do not cope. "They are resorting to all kinds of things," he said from decades of experience.

They abuse their children, for instance. In Clark and Floyd counties, they do so more often than do Hoosiers generally. Clark is especially guilty, among Indiana's lowly leaders. Its rate of abuse per 1,000 kids is shamefully more than twice the state's.

Relief at the pumps alone will not save the children, of course. What might?

Blue ribbons were worn in April, the month designated to promote child-abuse prevention. Candles were lit, at April's beginning. A calendar is to be produced and sold full of awareness reminders. Guides have been distributed in schools, for teachers and counselors better to urge prevention plus to spot problems. Homeless children being of exceptional risk, their parents are pointed to opportunities in education and in the workplace.

This thankfully is not all. Then again, all obviously is not nearly yet enough. A group called the Prevent Child Abuse Council of Clark/Floyd Counties is into its 10th year. Bad totals would be worse without the council's concern. An impact can be assumed, though not measured. Still, abusers obviously have their way.

Christy Heiligenberg cannot concede. She coordinates the council, oversees cheerily the ribbons and the candles and the calendars. She heaps on the hope, figuring it way better than the alternative.

"It's going to take a lot more than nine years to educate a community," she said. "It's just something we've got to continually work at."

The council consists of similarly determined social-work types such as Barksdale, who heads in Floyd what typically is called the welfare department. The Department of Child Services is its actual title.

The agencies represented on the council all help children, all address abuse. They do what they can.

They cannot do all they might like, however. State aid for prevention is down, the apparent mandate from Indianapolis being to tackle the tons of abuse on the books.

"We can't stay on the prevention side," Barksdale said. "We've got to concentrate on those already abused and neglected."

Which ramps up the council's role, Barksdale said. Though always helpful, the group now is crucial. Once-a-year ceremony won't dent the challenge. The council must go from being another voice to conducting the choir.

Barksdale asks it to raise money for prevention efforts, to marshal volunteers, to encourage if not to insist on collaboration among agencies.

"This organization is going to have to step up," Barksdale said.

Heiligenberg reminds that perhaps abuse is not grossly worse, only that its reporting is increasingly better. Awareness works, if after the fact. The council nonetheless seems set to run with Barksdale's charge. It can do nothing to reduce the price of fuel, but it can confront other stresses.

"We can hear the needs," said Jessica Hamlyn , of Foster Care Plus. "When we all come together, we can address the needs."

Jenny Mertz , of Healthy Families of Floyd County, said the council will push for its priority to become among the public's. "I don't think we'd be here if we thought it was impossible," Mertz said.

The council pays Heiligenberg, a part-timer, through fundraising and through agencies' support. Even the calendar is no sure thing without sponsorship. Odds are high of stemming the tide, yet higher without a game effort.

"Our job is to plant a seed in the community and hope it will grow," Heiligenberg said.

That calendar is to be highlighted by pictures drawn by children served by the council's member agencies. The council chose pictures for the calendar at its last meeting.

One such crayoned image is of a boy screaming for help while being strangled. The young artist sadly seems to know all about the topic.

The picture also is of bright sunshine, though. Spotting that, council members read progress. They take encouragement for the fight ahead.

"We deal with strangling all the time," Heiligenberg said. "When we see the bright side, it really stands out."


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