Groups mark child abuse prevention, awareness month
by Megan Thornton
April 10, 2013 10:49 PM | 1484 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Anna Crawford Children's Center has placed hundreds of pinwheels in its front lawn to mark Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness month. <br> Staff/Todd Hull
The Anna Crawford Children's Center has placed hundreds of pinwheels in its front lawn to mark Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness month.
Staff/Todd Hull
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Child advocacy organizations throughout Cherokee County are marking Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month by shedding light on typically dark experiences faced by numerous local children suffering all forms of abuse.

Cherokee CASA for Children

Cherokee Court-Appointed Special Advocates for Children is playing host to its annual Light of Hope Awards on Tuesday to honor those who provide a “light of hope” for Cherokee children. Awards will be given for those serving in various capacities throughout the county, including religious, youth, athletic, child welfare, volunteer, public service organizations, school personnel and youth working with youth.

The awards banquet will be at 7 p.m. at the Cherokee Arts Center, 94 North St. in Canton and is free and open to the public.

“We host the Light of Hope Awards each year to try to increase the public’s awareness of programs and services that strengthen families and help to prevent child abuse,” Executive Director Deidre Hollands said. “Many people don’t tend to think there are people making a difference at baseball practice or karate lessons, but that’s one of the things that statistics and research tells us really strengthens families.”

Hollands said April is always a busy but fun time of year.

“Once they see this need, the community rises and steps up to do the right thing by our children,” Hollands said. “It reminds us that we’re not in the fight alone.”

CASA is kicking off this month’s events by honoring its local volunteers for their efforts and the children they help in the organization’s second Superhero 5K Run this Saturday at the First Baptist Church of Woodstock.

Proceeds will benefit the local CASA organization, which aims to provide children in the juvenile justice system with trained volunteers to advocate for their needs.

Participants can register the day of the race with packet pick-up beginning at 7 a.m. The 5K begins at 8 a.m. and costs $30, and the one-mile race starts at 9 a.m. and costs $15. T-shirts are given to 5K participants while supplies last and those in the one-mile race will receive a finisher’s ribbon.

Go to www.casachero-kee.org for online registration.

CASA will have a training course beginning Monday for interested advocates. So far, 15 new volunteers have signed up but Hollands said the class is open to more.

Those interested in becoming child advocates must be 21 years old and should expect to complete 30 hours of training in nationally certified courses and 10 hours of courtroom observation and a background check, Hollands said. CASA works with about 85 volunteers and, while many are from all walks of life, Hollands said it’s key that each volunteer have some flexibility in his or her schedule.

“However, 35 to 40 percent of them work full time,” Hollands said. “Besides that, we can train you. We love that people bring their different life experiences and skill sets. We’ve found retired teachers make great advocates for kids falling behind or people with medical backgrounds for children that might be medically fragile.”

Typically, volunteers report working 15 to 20 hours each month on one or two cases and work with each child for approximately one year. In the overburdened child welfare system, many attorneys juggle hundreds of cases and don’t have the time to dedicate to each child, Holland said.

“The most beautiful and helpful thing is we take one case and we know that one kid, that family well,” she said. “Our volunteers have the time to really get to know the child and represent them in courtroom and advocate for them in the community.”

Hollands said in 2012, CASA served a total of 240 children. That’s slightly less than in 2011, when the organization worked with 256 kids. So far this year, advocates have worked with 172 children total and of the 206 now in foster care, continues to serve 156 kids or 76 percent of those needing services.

“In 2011, we were serving very close to 100 percent of children in foster care,” Hollands said.

She added the rate of entry into the system has been higher in the last several months, which challenges CASA to sustain and recruit more volunteers.

Goshen Valley Boys Ranch

For the first time, Goshen Valley Boys Ranch is playing host to a luncheon to bring together all stakeholders in the child advocacy arena.

The event will be at the Northside Hospital-Cherokee Conference Center from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 23.

Partnering with DFCS and the Cherokee Juvenile Court System, about 300 attendees will gather to bring attention to the plight of neglected and abused children in Cherokee.

JoNell Courson, a social worker at Goshen Valley, said the luncheon was the brainchild of Goshen founder John Blend.

“He wanted to bring everyone together in order to network and show the community everybody is standing together to make Cherokee a safe place for kids,” Courson said.

Anna Crawford Children’s Center

Partnering with the Division of Family and Children’s Services, the Anna Crawford Children’s Center has already placed hundreds of pinwheels in its front yard as the organization does each year to represent children affected by child abuse in Cherokee County.

Though in previous years volunteers would create a pathway of pinwheels connecting the two Canton facilities across Lamar Haley Parkway, trucks heading to the adjacent Universal Alloy Corp. had a tendency to knock over the delicate lawn fixtures.

“We joked that it was sort of symbolic about how we’re responsible for picking up the pieces,” said Amy Economopolous, executive director of Anna Crawford Children’s Center. “This year, we just kept them to each of our front lawns.”

The center is also offering a Darkness to Light course, which focuses on child abuse prevention, on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. its 319 Lamar Haley Parkway location.

The free course focuses on teaching adults how to recognize and respond responsibly when they have concerns about sexual abuse, Economopolous said. The approximately three-hour class includes videos and group interactive activities.

Economopolous said it can teach adults about ways to reduce risk in any child-serving scenario from a church nursery to a youth tae kwon do class.

“I try to take it once a year just as a parent,” she said. “It’s very eye opening and really is thought provoking.”

She added through a grant, the Anna Crawford Children’s Center is able to provide the course to various other community organizations and send a representative to teach the class.

To register for the course, call (770) 345-8100.

On Monday, April 22, the center will host a barbecue fundraiser in Cannon Park in downtown Canton sponsored by Williamson Brothers Bar-B-Q from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
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