County ceremony highlights abuse awareness

Audrey Caro

A pinwheel garden sprouted in front of the Linn County Courthouse on Thursday, April 19, as a reminder that April is Child Abuse Awareness month.

Guest speakers from ABC House, Family Tree Relief Nursery and Court Appointed Special Advocates were on hand for a small ceremony.

Linn County Child Abuse Network sponsored the event.

The 254 pinwheels represent the 254 “founded” – substantiated – cases of child abuse and neglect in Linn County in 2017.

The positive aspect of that number is that those children have been removed from those circumstances, said Julie Gilman, executive director of CASA of Linn County.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in four children have experienced child abuse or neglect at some point in their lives.

Jenny Gilmore-Robinson, executive director of the ABC House, said it feels scary to call in suspected child abuse.

“But the problem is never going to be solved if we don’t,” she said.

There are three things everyone can do to help prevent child abuse, Gilmore-Robinson said.

The first is to get involved.

That means people using their time, talent and money, she said.

The second is to get educated – learn the signs of abuse, how to react responsibly and how to prevent it.

The third is to report concerns.

“More than 3,500 people made that call (last year),” Gilmore-Robinson said. “I know it’s hard but we can do it.”

Chris Singer, development officer for Family Tree Relief Nursery said Linn County stands out among the many different communities he has worked in.

“I’ve never been in a community that is so supportive of other nonprofits,” Singer said. “The District Attorney’s office is willing to step in and that’s not always possible.”

Family Tree Relief Nursery is doing a diaper drive – No Child Wet Behind – during the month of April.

Low-income families cannot use food stamps to purchase diapers.

Sometimes that means keeping a baby in the same diaper for two or three days, Singer said.

“We can’t help these families without your help,” he said.

Family Tree Relief Nursery is a private, nonprofit organization that provides a therapeutic classroom and nursery, an outreach program and respite, home visitation, parent education and support, according to its website.

The purpose of these services is to reduce abuse and neglect in high-risk families.

“Child abuse and neglect can happen in any socio-economic or racial background,” said Sarah Helgeson, program coordinator for Linn County CAN. “No group is immune to this epidemic.”

Gilman said Family Tree Relief Nursery works to keep children out of the system.

Once children are in the system, they are eligible for a Court Appointed Special Advocate.

CASAs, as they are known, are volunteers who donate their time to act as independent eyes and ears of the court and advocate for foster children in the custody of the state Department of Human Services.

CASAs train for 35 to 40 hours and go through extensive background checks before being sworn in by the court and assigned to a child.

It’s a minimum two-year commitment, Gilman said.

“Two years is the average length of time in foster care,” she said. “My volunteers have amazing hearts and that comes with some sadness.”