Multiple agencies, social workers and community leaders met at McDowell Department of Social Services Monday morning to reflect on Child Abuse Prevention Month and release balloons in recognition of the movement.

“This agency could not operate without social workers and the countless hours they put in. It’s a combination of the kids we work with and the sacrifices everyone gives to make our county better,” said DSS Director Lisa Sprouse.

Rhonda Robbins of the child advocacy center, Lily’s Place, is the handler of Leroy, a therapy dog trained to work with children of abuse in McDowell County. Leroy also reads with children at Eastfield Global Magnet School on Tuesdays, among other important activities with kids. He has become a familiar face around the county, and was sporting his blue-and-white tie in honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“He has been with us for three years now, and he goes to forensic interviews the kids, medical exams and courtrooms. He has been a real asset to us and everybody,” said Robbins. “We have seen a great difference in the kids that have worked with him. He makes a difference in the community.”

Robbins said child abuse is in epidemic levels nationally, and in McDowell County, Lily’s Place has already seen 100 children in 2018.

“In the U.S., 61,000 reports of child maltreatment are made each week, that’s six per minute and one every 10 seconds. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused by age 18,” she said.

Mayor Steve Little and County Commission Chairman David Walker both read proclamations naming April 2018 as Child Abuse Prevention Month in Marion and McDowell County.

“McDowell County probably is unique where we don’t care who gets the credit; when something needs to be done, we work together,” said Little. “It is symbolic and very important to declare the month of April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.”

From the proclamation from the City of Marion:

“Children are vital to our communities’ future, success, prosperity as well as quality of life, as well as being our must vulnerable assets. All children deserve to have safe, stable, nurturing and healthy homes and communities that foster their wellbeing. Child abuse and neglect is a personal responsibility affecting both the current and future quality of life of a community. Parents need support and resources to cope with stress and to nurture their children to their full potential. Effective child abuse prevention strategies succeed because of partnerships created among citizens, human service agencies, schools, faith communities, healthcare providers, civic organizations, law enforcement agencies and the business community.”

Before reading the county’s proclamation, Walker talked about his experience with Child Protective Services, becoming a foster parent and later adopting three children.

“Children every day in this county are being abused and neglected. I am a foster parent. The CPS unit is great and my wife and I have learned so much. We have since adopted three little girls, with the oldest one in kindergarten. McDowell County needs good foster parents, and if you have ever considered providing a home and a safe place for a kid, contact DSS and they will get you started,” said Walker.

From the proclamation from McDowell County Board of Commissioners:

“Child abuse and neglect is a serious problem affecting every segment of our community, and finding solutions requires input and actions from everyone in our community. Children are our most valuable resource and will shape the future of McDowell County. Child abuse can have long-term psychological, emotional and physical effects that can have lifelong consequences for victims of abuse. Effective child abuse prevention activities succeed because the meaningful connections and partnerships created through child welfare, education, health, community, faith-based organizations, businesses and law enforcement agencies. Communities must make every effort to promote programs and activities that benefit children and their families. We acknowledge that we must work together as a community to increase awareness about child abuse and to promote the social and emotional wellbeing of children and families in a safe, nurturing, stable environment.”

An open house is scheduled at Lily’s Place this Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. where they will be giving out the first-ever Lily’s Hope Award for one person who goes above and beyond in the field of child abuse and neglect.

Blue and white balloons were released from the DSS parking lot in honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month, and blue and white pinwheels have been placed all over the city and county. To learn more, visit www.childwelfare.gov.

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