• 70°

CAC: Abuse cases on the rise

Cheryl Neal, left, and Stephanie Jackson arrange commemorative pinwheels on the lawn of the Escambia County Regional/Kathy Hill Child Advocacy Center in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Since January, staff members of the Escambia County Regional Child Advocacy Center has provided services in 40 cases involving child abuse — a number that has grown in recent months.
Stephanie Jackson, director for the center that serves Escambia, Monroe and Conecuh counties, said the growing number of cases shows the need to continuing educating children on safety and reporting in abuse situations.
“It’s important that we teach children how to recognize abuse and how to report it,” Jackson said. “We typically present the information on safe and unsafe touching to third grade students. That’s about the age that we believe they can truly comprehend the information we provide to them concerning safe and unsafe touching.”
Jackson has been joined by CAC staff including Cheryl Neal and Investigator Erik Hartsel throughout the county school system this week as National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month kicks off.
“We handle calls concerning physical and sexual abuse in three counties,” Neal said. “It seems that we have seen an increase in the number of sexual abuse cases in recent months. It’s sad that we have an increase in those kinds of cases.”
Kelley Parris Barnes, director of the Department of Child Abuse Prevention in Alabama, said having a month to recognize the problem gives everyone an opportunity to be involved in protecting children in the state.
“April is a time to celebrate the important role that communities play in protecting children,” Barnes said. “Everyone’s participation is critical.  Focusing on ways to build and promote the protective factors, in every interaction with children and families, is the best thing our communities can do to prevent child maltreatment and promote optimal child development.”
According to information released by the Department of Child Abuse Prevention, abuse and neglect of children costs Alabama taxpayers more than $520 million in direct and indirect costs each year. The department funds more than 200 community-based prevention programs in the state.
Jackson said the recognition month was created to make the public aware of existing and growing problems with child abuse.
“Increasing public awareness of the need to ensure the safety and welfare of children led to the passage of the first Federal child protection legislation, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), in 1974,” Jackson said. “Even though the CAPTA has been amended many times over the years, most recently by the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003, the purpose of the original legislation remains intact. The purpose is to continue providing programs and services to protect children and strengthen families.”
In addition to school visits, the CAC, also known as the Kathy Hill Child Advocacy Center, is decorated to bring attention to the special month of recognition.
“We continue to use blue ribbons as a way to bring attention to the time recognizing child abuse issues,” Neal said. “We’ve also place silver and blue pinwheels in our lawn to attract attention. It’s a good way to let people know we’re here and to further educate the public about the abuse problems we see every day.”
For those interested in furthering the attention to the problems associated with child abuse and neglect, a special gathering will be held at the State House in Montgomery next week.
Child advocates must speak with a collective voice both at home and in Montgomery,” Barnes said. “The public is invited to join us on April 11 on the steps of the State House at 10 a.m. in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month.  This is an opportunity to let your elected officials know that you support children and will be voting accordingly.”
To report suspected abuse or neglect, contact the Escambia County Child Advocacy Center at their offices at 400 Evergreen Avenue or by calling 809-2906.