Investing in children a priority
Blue and silver pinwheels spun in the breeze, serving as a reminder that not all youngsters live a happy childhood. The pinwheels were distributed to those who attended the Prevent Child Abuse program last Tuesday evening at the outdoor pavilion of the YMCA of Harrison County in Corydon.
Similar pinwheels had been placed in various locations at the beginning of April, which is Prevent Child Abuse Awareness Month.
Last year, the Dept. of Child Services in Harrison County investigated 622 cases, according to James Snook, the local office director. That compared to 198,684 cases statewide.
To date in 2015, the county has 40 cases, focusing on 66 children, while the state total now stands at 17,000.
‘Eighty-five to 90 percent of cases are related to drug or substance abuse, either directly or indirectly,’ Snook said. ‘It has an effect on children; it has an effect on the safety of our children.’
He said it takes everyone working together to make a difference in children’s lives. The DCS works closely with law enforcement agencies, schools, CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) and mental health organizations.
Another group Snook said it takes is foster parents. He invited one of his ‘star recruits,’ Peggy Teagarden, to speak.
Teagarden told how children ‘crash land’ at her home, where they then ‘profile’ their foster parents and try to learn to manipulate them. And while she has lost many nights of sleep while thinking of ways to help each child entrusted to her care, she said the children who go into foster homes have lost much more.
‘They have lost the joys of childhood and their innocence,’ Teagarden said. ‘The saddest thing of all is they’ve lost the opportunity to be the person they were meant to be.’
Also speaking was Harrison County Prosecutor J. Otto Schalk, who told that, of all the cases he handles, the child abuse cases are the ones that have the most emotional impact.
‘You have an innocent child who has been traumatized and will have to deal with that trauma for a significant period of time,’ he said. ‘You have a child who oftentimes is brought up in an environment that will never give them a legitimate chance to succeed. One of the first things you need to recognize in handling these cases is that, more often than not, you are one of the only supports that child has to rely on.’
That’s why his office makes these cases a priority and works as a team with law enforcement, DCS, investigators, victim advocates, medical and mental health providers and forensic interviewers from Comfort House, the child advocacy center that serves Harrison County.
‘At the end of the day, the children in our community are a snapshot of our future,’ Schalk said. ‘It is that reason that we need to invest in them. We need to invest in their education, their well-being and their safety.’