April 3, 2008


Pinwheels a symbol of hope for abused


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Rita Wright, left, and prevention educator Alisha DeChellis set up a display at the Marketplace Mall Tuesday of 160 pinwheels signifying the children helped by the YWCA’s Aid to Victims of Violence last year.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The basket is bursting with pinwheels, each representing a local child who has had violence enter their lives.
Each of the 160 pinwheels represents a child whose family has been helped by the YWCA’s Aid to Victims of Violence because they have been a victim of violence or a witness to violence.
The pinwheel is a symbol of hope, promise and innocence, said Aid to Victims of Violence Director Rita Wright, and they serve as a symbol for Child Abuse Awareness Month this April.
Nationwide, pinwheels and blue ribbons will be displayed this month to remind people that it is a choice to harm a child.
“We want to go a step further than just defining child abuse, talking about behavior and those things,” Wright said Tuesday. “Of course, the responsibility is on adults. One of the things we talk about is turning choices into change.”
Wright and the Aid to Victims of Violence staff will host an awareness mini-fair Friday at the Marketplace Mall with pinwheels, prizes and activities to help raise awareness. Verizon Pioneers will provide balloons, handouts and some instruction. Wright also hopes that downtown businesses will display pinwheels in their windows in honor of Child Abuse Awareness Month.
The pinwheel-filled basket and Wright appeared before the city Common Council Tuesday night and Mayor Tom Gallagher read a proclamation recognizing Child Abuse Awareness Month.
Child abuse can be broken into physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional and psychological abuse, the abuse of a parent or other relatives or their friends, and the abuse of a sibling.
Cortland County Department of Social Services Director Kristen Monroe said 912 cases went through Child Protective Services in 2007, down from 973 in 2006. Some of these cases, though, are repeats, with the same families receiving multiple reports over the course of the year. Slightly more than 100 children are in foster care right now.
About 60 percent of the families that CPS works with do so voluntarily, Monroe said.
Wright and Monroe both hope that preventative services and education will curb child abuse. Monroe said her office handles case management by helping families to establish plans for improvement and linking them with professionals who handle these cases on a day-to-day basis.
“All of our training is focused on finding positives and strengths that we build upon with families. We want them to make their own decisions; we just provide them with options and guidance,” Monroe said of the department’s caseworkers.
The state actually requires “mandated reporters” to lodge reports of suspected child abuse — about 30 different positions qualify as mandated reporters, including medical professionals, school officials, the district attorney, law enforcement officers, substance abuse counselors, mental health professionals and counselors, and day care workers.
Both CPS and Aid to Victims of Violence rely on the help of regular community in reporting suspected incidents of child abuse, but Monroe pointed out that all reports are checked before they are acted upon by the county.
Wright said the Family Resource Center on Main Street and CAPCO offer multiple programs and resources for families. Parenting classes are also available, and Wright pointed out that there is nothing wrong with receiving a little help for a job that can often be trying — children are not always easy to deal with and parenting skills are not ingrained.
“Children are resilient, they bounce back, but the scars are still there,” Wright said.
Wright said a community is collectively responsible for its children — responsible for listening to them if they report being abused and helping them when they need help.
“We all have to pay attention, we all have to be aware. Our kids, our business,” Wright said. “We want to strengthen our families, and not just those families that are at risk or those families that we want to single out and judge, but we want to strengthen all families.”