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By Jimmie Earls
Sun Staff Writer
According to numbers released by Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky, there were 74,159 reported cases of child abuse in Kentucky, involving 88,292 children. Of those reports, 9,522 cases, involving a total of 14,802 children were substantiated. It’s a problem that Pat Sutton of the Washington County Homemakers Association doesn’t see going away anytime soon.
“It's not getting any better,” said Sutton. “In Washington County, there were 734 cases involving 864 children. Out of those, 48 reports were substantiated that involved 67 children. Last year, the number of substantiated reports was 41, so it's gone up a lot.”
Sutton said that for 2008, Kentucky ranked sixth in the nation for children who were neglected or abused and, with 25 deaths, Kentucky ranked seventh in the nation in the number of children who had died as a result of abuse or neglect, with 48 children sustaining serious injuries.
Sutton’s Blue Ribbon Campaign is under way in Washington County, and through it she hopes to bring attention to the problem and hopefully decrease the numbers of abused or neglected children. It’s part of a national program aimed at fighting child abuse.
The Blue Ribbon Campaign started in 1989 as a Virginia grandmother's tribute to her grandson who died as a result of abuse. She tied a blue ribbon to the antenna of her car as a way to remember him and to alert her community to the tragedy of child abuse.
“She had a daughter with four children, and the daughter’s boyfriend was abusive,” Sutton said. “He ended up killing one of the children, a four-year-old boy. She wanted to do something so people wouldn’t forget, so she tied a blue ribbon to her antenna. She chose blue because that was the color of the children’s bruises.”
Blue ribbons will be available free of charge at different locations around Washington County. People are asked to wear them for the entire month of April to help raise awareness of the child abuse problem.
In past years, Sutton has placed a blue ribbon on a tree at the old courthouse to represent the number of Washington County children affected by abuse.
“When you see something, it hits you more than just hearing someone talk about numbers,” Sutton added. “So many people have said that they had no idea there were that many children affected in Washington County.”
In support of the effort to combat the problem of child abuse, Washington County Judge-Executive John Settles has proclaimed April 2009 as Child Abuse Prevention Month across the county.
“Children are our most precious resource, and we are committed to keeping children of this great Commonwealth safe and happy. The prevention of child abuse is crucial to the preservation of the health and well-being of Kentucky's families and can be accomplished by providing support and information to families as well as through increased community awareness," a proclamation issued by Settles read.
Washington County Fiscal Court approved a request from Sutton to place a child abuse awareness banner across the front of the old county courthouse during the month of April. This is just one of the ways Sutton hopes to draw attention to the problem.
Sutton also said that the rise in the number of cases could be due in part to stress related to the poor national economy.
“Most authorities feel like it’s stress-related,” she said. “Now things are really stressed out with the economy like it is. I think there’s times all of us as parents get a little frustrated. I know when my children were young, if I was really ticked with them, I would count to 10. I knew not to touch them. Kids are kids. If you find yourself in that situation, call a friend to vent how you feel and take time to calm down and not take it out on a child.”
The problems or the solutions don't rely just on parents. More grandparents are taking care of children these days as are other family members or close friends. Sutton said people cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the problem in front of them. Some may be afraid to report abuse in fear of violence towards them. She asks people to seek help from those who provide safety and assistance.
“Everybody can do something,” Sutton said. “Read a book to a child, take time for children individually, make them feel important. Let them help plan a meal or plan a day around what they want to do. Even calling a child by their first name can be beneficial. It’s little things that can make a difference in a child’s life. It’s a cycle, and some of these kids that are abused as children grow up to be abusive parents because that’s all they know. The cycle has got to be broken.”