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Published: Wednesday, 4/21/2010

699 pinwheels set up in Bowling Green by youths to represent reports of child abuse

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - Just before hundreds of blue-and-silver pinwheels popped up on a church lawn, officials talked about how the numbers are going down - slowly, slowly, but down just the same.

Youngsters from First United Methodist Child Learning Center along East Wooster Street planted rows of pinwheels last week as the Wood County Department of Job and Family Services kicked off Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month.

Clutching bunches of pinwheels like shiny, shimmering bouquets, the children pushed the plastic stems, one by one, into holes drilled in wooden stands. Some youngsters puffed and puffed to blow the pinwheels into action while others stood waiting for gusts of wind.

The children wore pale blue shirts with lettering telling about the pinwheel project: "Pinwheels for Prevention. It's your turn to raise the leaders of tomorrow."

A nearby sign tells passers-by that the 699 pinwheels - one for each case of child abuse and neglect reported in Wood County last year - today represent adults who provide a voice and advocate for the children, and tomorrow the pinwheels will represent children growing up in safe, loving families.

The pinwheels twist and twirl like rows of happy children, a stark contrast to the abuse and neglect that happens in hundreds of homes in Wood County.

Melinda Stambaugh, children's services administrator for Wood County Job and Family Services, said prevention, intervention, and collaboration are having an impact and that the number of reported cases is diminishing.

There were 742 cases of abuse and neglect reported in 2007, compared to 737 in 2008, and 699 in 2009.

"We like to believe our prevention efforts are making a difference," she said. Staff members are working hard to reach out to families to deal with issues "so problems do not escalate," she said.

In addition, the juvenile court system, schools, teachers, law-enforcement officials, emergency room physicians, and other agencies are among those getting increasingly involved, identifying at-risk children and reporting incidents that need addressed, she said. By coordinating together in a community-wide collaborative, "it benefits all the families we work with," she said.

Although the number of cases hasn't dropped dramatically, "the trend is going in the right direction," said Paulette Stephens, director of Wood County Job and Family Services.

She pointed out that there have been no reports of horrific cases of abuse and neglect such as those which happened in the county a couple of years ago. Those cases involved shaken-baby syndrome, and children with broken bones and serious burns, she said.

Today, Miss Stephens said, people are more inclined to seek help before situations turn horrific, and, too, relatives, friends, or neighbors are more willing to call and tell authorities that a family needs some assistance to prevent child abuse and neglect.

There has been a lot of focus on community support, Ms. Stambaugh said.

The pinwheels, which could promote additional community support, will remain on display possibly for the month, depending on the weather.

This is the first year for the pinwheels to be on exhibit at the First United Methodist Church, Miss Stephens said. "We are thankful to the church. This is a good location. Everyone can see the pinwheels as they pass by."

Josie Bowling, 5, of Bowling Green said she was taking part in the pinwheel project to "keep kids safe. We are putting in pinwheels 'cause we want them to spin so people can see them."

As they finished their task, the children gathered on the grass, and sat "criss-cross applesauce" as they posed for photographs with officials including Wood County Commissioner Tim Brown who thanked the youngsters for their hard work. "This is important to us."



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