Pinwheels offer reminder battle against child abuse

Sean C. Morgan

A small crowd of adults and children gathered Friday afternoon, April 8, at Sweet Home Police Department to plant pinwheels.

The event was part of Child Abuse Awareness Month and the spinning blue and silver blades, spinning in the breeze, represented happiness, health and safety for children.

“We all have a role preventing child abuse in our community, to find and create safe places for kids to grow and live in,” said Police Chief Jeff Lynn.

Organizer Gina Riley, the police department’s community services officer, said this is the community’s fourth pinwheel garden, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club.

“This is a passion we have had here,” Riley said.

Donations collected in exchange for pinwheels are used to buy gas cards to help Sweet Home children get to the ABC House in Albany, which provides resources to children and families during and after investigations into child abuse.

“In a nutshell, our mission is to give kids their childhoods back,” said Jennifer Gilmore-Robinson, executive director of ABC House. The organization focuses on children who are involved in child abuse investigations. There they can get medical examinations and talk about what happened.

ABC House is able to ask questions of the children in the right way, she said, without making it seem like an interrogation, but in a way that helps investigators find out what happened.

ABC House likes to see investigators catch child abusers, but the most important thing, Gilmore-Robinson said, “we really want to help them heal.”

Linn County is ranked 17th among Oregon’s 36 counties for child abuse, and Linn County had 363 confirmed victims of abuse or neglect in 437 separate reports of abuse and neglect in 2014, Gil-more-Robinson said. In 2015, 456 children received child abuse assessment services, 38 percent of them referred from the Lebanon and Sweet Home areas.

Among those children, 47.9 percent were referred for concerns of physical abuse, and 29.6 percent were referred for concerns of sexual abuse. Half were below age 7; 52 percent were girls, and 48 percent were boys.

“We’re getting so much better at reporting signs of abuse,” Gil-more-Robinson said, and she is hoping to improve on it. ABC House provides free training and will provide it to groups of people who request the training, office groups, churches and book cubs, for example.

Facilitators can help explain what the signs of abuse are and what questions to ask, she said. People merely need to call and ask.

Riley said she is in the planning stages for two training sessions in Sweet Home.

The ABC House is working on a two-year Ford Family Foundation grant to train at least 5 percent of the population in Linn and Benton counties, Gilmore-Robinson said. That works out to more than 4,000 individuals.

“All of this depends on getting people to get the training,” she said, and that means training facilitators, who can provide the training.

Riley is planning to take the facilitator training, so she can run public training sessions in Sweet Home.

This kind of training can increase the number of confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect, Gilmore-Robinson said. In Texas, 70,000 teachers were trained in the Stewards of Children Darkness to Light program, resulting in an increase in the number of confirmed cases reported.

“The biggest thing about it is we can’t expect kids to say anything when it’s happening,” Gilmore-Robinson said. Only about a third of children will report it, “so it means as adults, we need to be looking for signs of child abuse.”

Preventing it in the first place is most important, she said. That means paying attention to how children interact with adults. Youth organizations across the nation have taken steps to prevent it by limiting contact between children when it is not observable or interruptible by others.

Among signs of abuse, adults should watch for changes in behavior, she said, but each case is different. Sometimes, children may show no signs.

For the victims, “we offer trauma counseling,” Gilmore-Robinson said. ABC House also refers children to counselors in other organizations and agencies in the area.

For more information or to reach ABC House, call (541) 926-2203 or visit abchouse.org on the web.

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