Walk raises awareness on abuse, neglect
A crowd of people gathered near the front steps of the Vance County Court House Wednesday morning to participate in the third annual Child Abuse Prevention Walk.
Sponsored by the Vance County Department of Social Services, a greater than expected number of participants attended, according to Meredith Houchins, supervisor of Child Protective Services at Vance County DSS.
“In past years we’ve had over 100,” said Houchins. She said Wednesday’s gathering was larger.
Prior to the walk, Mayor Pete O’Geary formally proclaimed April as Child Abuse Prevention Month in the City of Henderson.
“It is great to see so many people here, and thank you so much for taking part in this,” O’Geary said. “Preventing child abuse and neglect is a community problem that depends on the involvement of people throughout the community.”
Also speaking was Jerry Ayscue, county manager, and Judge Carolyn Yancey, who served for 10 years as attorney for the Department of Social Services in Vance and Warren counties.
“There are faces, and there are names, and there are acts of abuse that continue to shame our community, that I will never, ever be able to forget,” Yancey said. “Photos of bumps, photos of unexplained wounds, old and new, photos of children with saddened eyes who can’t speak and tell what happened.”
Yancey’s words brought forward images that were difficult for audience members to fathom, many shaking their head in disbelief and disappointment.
When Caroline S. Burnette, current attorney for Vance County Department of Social Services provided statistical information, the reality of an insidious disease existing in the surrounding community was brought forward.
“From 2011 in June to July of 2012, Vance County Department of Social Services has received reports of abuse, neglect, and dependency concerning 390 children,” Burnette said. “That is more than one report per day.
“Of those 390 children, 142 have been provided protective services from the Vance County DSS and other protective services agencies.”
Seventy-one balloons, representing two children each, were released in the air as a symbol of the 142 abused and neglected children served in Vance County.
Ayscue further justified the severity of child abuse locally, and nationwide, stating that $124 billion dollars were spent last year to deal with child abuse and neglect.
“That’s a lot of money,” Ayscue said. “But even more outrageous than that is a problem of negative behavior, the problems that are associated for a lifetime if untreated that go with child abuse and neglect.”
According to Ayscue, in North Carolina last fiscal year almost 133,000 children were referred social services across 100 counties.
“We must and should value our children as our greatest future resource that we’ve ever had,” Ayscue said. “The solution really lies within each one of us, within each one of you.”
The majority of attendees joining in the walk were made up of students from Pinkston Street Elementary, Henderson Middle and Southern Vance High School.
Young children from Great Beginnings Christian Childcare and After School Center were also present, clinching bright blue pinwheels as they clustered together on the courthouse steps.
Pinwheels, like 491 placed in front of Franklin-Vance-Warren Opportunity in early April to kick of Child Abuse Prevention Month, represent the power of play, which not only develops bonds of affection and joy, but also helps children learn.
Walkers began their journey on a somber note, many still humming the lyrics of “Concrete Angel,” a Martina McBride song about an abused girl, sang by Kaitlyn Tant, a seventh-grader at Henderson Middle.
“She walks to school with the lunch she packed,” Tant sang. “Nobody knows what she’s holding back.
“Wearing the same dress she wore yesterday. She hides the bruises with linen and lace.”
Tant’s courage to sing in front of hundreds of people was gathered through the strong emotion she feels when thinking about abused children.
“It makes me sad because you know kids don’t deserve to be hurt like that,” Tant said. “They are the future.”
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