Child Abuse Prevention Month Raises Awareness in Highland County
Pinwheels are the national symbol for child abuse prevention, and they stand for hope, health, and safety. On the Highland County courthouse lawn, fifty-six pinwheels rotate in the wind as a symbolic representation of the number of referrals in the last state fiscal year involving fifty-six local children. That’s an increase from thirty-three the year before. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month in Virginia, and the year’s theme is “Building Brighter Childhoods.”
Director of the Highland County Department of Social Services, Sarah Rexrode, has more. “Last year in Virginia, there were 120 investigations of child deaths that were due to suspected abuse or neglect, and 101 of these children were three years of age or younger,” she says. “Thirty-eight of those children died as a result of abuse or neglect, with seventeen of those cases still pending. Every nine and a half days, a child dies as a result of abuse or neglect in Virginia, and there are currently 5,197 children in foster care, over half of which are in care due to child neglect.”
Despite all of these alarming stats, she says that there are things that can be done to prevent child abuse. Ms. Rexrode continues, “One of those things is parents should practice self-care. Take care of your physical, mental and emotional health. Take personal time. You’re better able to meet your children’s needs when you feel stronger. Opiod abuse has led Virginia to declare opiod addiction as a public health crisis. More Virginians now die from an overdose every year than in car accidents. If you or someone you know struggles with addiction, it is important to take steps to keep children safe. You can go to www.vaaware.com for treatment options.
“Be an involved parent and monitor electronic devices and social media. Know your child’s friends. Take interest in your child’s extracurricular activities and education.
“Most homes in Highland County have access to guns. It is the responsibility of every gun owner to prevent his or her firearm from getting in to the hands of a child. Most gun-related injuries and deaths are accidental. Never store your guns loaded. Ask the parents of your child’s friends if they have guns at home and how they are stored. Keep your guns in a locked space. You can go to www.projectchildsafe.org for more information on safety tips for guns. You can always contact your local sheriff’s department and ask for free gun locks. Those should be available there.”
The Highland County Department of Social Services has also obtained trigger locks, cable locks for guns and small lock boxes for small handguns and medications, all free for distribution to community members. Family Services Specialist, Emily Malcolm, performs all of the Department’s child protective services functions. She says that there have been events at the school to raise awareness, and more are upcoming. For instance, Ms. Malcolm says, “On April 26th, there will be a teen dating violence presentation, which will be done by Safehome’s, which is the domestic violence shelter out of Covington that serves our area, and they will be giving a presentation to students in the 6th through 12th grade. And then, of course, anybody who wants to call in a report can call the Child Abuse Hotline, and that is twenty-four hours. The number is 1-800-552-7096, or you can always call the Department of Social Services in Highland, and the phone number is 540-468-2199.