There should not have to be a Child Abuse Awareness & Prevention Month, and there should never be such a horrible reason to release balloons.
But there is.
A ceremony Monday at Rock Hill’s City Hall Plaza launched a month set aside to remind people that there are children who are abused and to beg people not to turn a blind eye when they see abuse or neglect.
“Don’t turn away,” said Family Court Judge David Guyton, who presides over many of those abuse and neglect cases.
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Just last year, more than 250 cases of abuse and neglect were found in York County alone, said Yvonne Stewart, county director for the state Department of Social Services.
Some kids live without running water or a toilet or food. Some have been found in houses where drugs are cooked. Some have parents battling booze and dope.
Kids are beaten, burned and battered. Bones are broken.
And just in the past four months, at least three children in York County have died at the hands of what officials say was abuse.
Guyton – a veteran of two wars, a man who has seen death up close – told the crowd of a couple hundred people to make sure that people don’t forget the victims of abuse.
“There is nothing more heartbreaking than child abuse,” he said.
Guyton talked about abuse that has been front-page news several times in recent weeks – children and babies abused until ribs or heads are broken – and sometimes a child dies.
Working to prevent child abuse is the most important goal there is, Guyton said. Change can come through a combination of social services agencies, police and, most importantly, a community that will not turn away when it sees abuse.
In 2013, the DSS office in York County received 1,864 calls alleging some type of abuse – the second highest number of calls of any county in the state, Stewart said.
More than Richland and Charleston, counties with much larger populations.
From among those calls, DSS started 555 investigations, with about half of them ending up with factual findings of abuse or neglect. The number of known abuse cases ended up being around 12th-highest in the state, Stewart said.
A large number of calls doesn’t necessarily reflect a higher rate of abuse, Stewart said. She believes more people are calling in to protect children.
“It means we have caring people who are in this together, and in York County we have a high level of awareness of what abuse is,” Stewart said. “It also shows the responsibility of all of us to try to stop it.”
Other speakers reiterated that the burden to end child abuse rests not with DSS or the police, but with all adults.
State Reps. Tommy Pope and Ralph Norman vowed to continue to fight for children in the Legislature.
York Mayor Eddie Lee, speaking for all York County municipalities, made April a month in honor of these children who should not be abused, but are.
April is a month for children who should be dreaming and playing, singing and learning, but instead end up in emergency rooms with cracked ribs from beatings and – almost as bad – must endure a childhood of mistrust, violence, hunger, fear and broken dreams.
The program that kicked off a month of public events at DSS and other agencies featured a beautiful song performed by two dozen kids from the Children’s Attention Home, a home for the abused and neglected, and these children go to school there.
They have been hurt. They had to be scooped up and sent there to survive.
Still, they sang about angels “watching over” them.
The Herald is not showing you photos or video of these children. We are not naming them. They are kids. They have been hurt, some of them badly.
Still, they sang loud and strong, their voices asking the rest of us to be the angels who will look out for them – and every other child who is abused.