Pinwheel ceremony marks start of Child Abuse Prevention Month

Led by Kosciusko County Prosecutor Brad Voelz (front left), people march around the courthouse square to bring awareness to Child Abuse Prevention Month, which is April. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
By David Slone

WARSAW — Pinwheels on the Kosciusko County courthouse lawn spun nonstop Friday as if to remind those gathered to recognize Child Abuse Prevention Month that the need to end child abuse can’t come quick enough.

“April is Child Abuse Awareness Month … In 11 months of the year, groups represented here today work tirelessly to mitigate, minimize the impact and prevent child abuse. The month of April, though, is specifically called out to focus on prevention,” said Bowen Center President and CEO Rob Ryan in his opening remarks at the annual pinwheel garden planting and march supporting child abuse prevention held on the southwest corner of the Kosciusko County Courthouse.

“It’s universally accepted that for humanity to continue and grow, we need to save space for our next generation to grow safely. We’re proud to be here today with support services, educators, Department of Child Services to shine a light on an issue that we believe is preventable. We’re proud to partner with other passionate advocates of children, parents, caregivers and families who do the right thing. That’s simply not just not abusing children, it’s a commitment to bettering ourselves and the system for children to be able to navigate and grow in a safe place,” he said. 

Erin Rowland Jones, executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Kosciusko County, said, “We live in an amazing community, but child abuse and neglect still occur here.”

In 2023, CASA of Kosciusko County served 22% more children than the year before, she stated. They served 144% more physically-abused children.

“So what can you and I, members of this community, do to prevent child abuse?” she asked. “Healing and change happens in community and relationship. If you see a family struggling, maybe through financial difficulties or a single mom juggling a lot, help them. Be there for them. Be an ear for them. Bring them a meal. Ask to babysit their children. The more we as community members see a family with needs and fill those needs ourself, the stronger our community is.”

Rowland Jones encouraged people to volunteer for organizations like Big Brother Big Sister, Baker Youth Club and CASA that work with and mentor the children of the community.
Superior Court I Judge Karin McGrath said, “I believe the way that a community reacts to its most vulnerable people is very telling about where that community’s heart is. It’s encouraging to me to see these numbers out today in these conditions here to support the prevention of child abuse.” 

She said they know the effects that abuse and neglect have on children in the now and in the long term.

“They’re damaged emotionally, mentally – the way they form relationships, the way their personality develops, the way their very brains develop,” McGrath said.
The statistics of child abuse should break a person’s heart.

“The many sources I see of abuse and neglect, the average is 1 in 7 children. Sexual abuse, 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 8 boys by the time they turn 18, they’re sexually abused in some form,” she said. “If the numbers don’t shatter you, how about the pocketbook? The lifetime expense that’s incurred as a result of abuse and neglect hits something like $592 billion. That’s right up there with the same kind of social financial impact on things like diabetes and heart disease.” 

Children who are abused and neglected are 11 times more likely to enter the criminal justice system as adults, McGrath said.

“We can’t ignore the numbers. We can’t ignore these vulnerable people in our community. Numbers break our hearts, numbers make us sad, maybe cause us to pause for a moment. Anyone should feel that kind of compassion. Let us be a group of people who use that compassion to take action and change things. Let’s support the kids in our community,” she concluded.Kosciusko County Local Office Director for the Department of Child Services Sara Cole said,

“Today we’re recognizing that April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Prevention is defined as the act of stopping something from happening or arriving. The majority of what the Department of Child Services does involves responding to child abuse and neglect situations after they have already occurred. That said, child safety is our number one goal.”

This month, and every month, she said it’s important to recognize the families, agencies and community for working together to prevent child abuse and neglect. “Through this collaboration, we can keep children safe,” Cole said.

For anyone who has a concern about child abuse or neglect occurring, she reminded everyone that in Indiana everyone is a mandated reporter of child abuse and neglect. The DCS hotline, staffed by DCS employees 24/7 365 days a year, is 1-800-800-5556.
Kosciusko County Prosecutor Brad Voelz said, “Pinwheel planting truly resonates with our community, raising awareness and igniting conversations long after what we do here today.”

He said the prosecutor’s office continues to “share in this necessary, important and commendable work. … The work we do is vital in our collectiveness and to protect and prevent children’s abuse and neglect. We all provide life-changing support to our most vulnerable.”

Voelz encouraged everyone to continue together to fight and empower children to prevent their abuse in the community.

Tracy Horrell, Warsaw Community Schools assistant superintendent for secondary education, said, “At Warsaw Community Schools, our mission is to inspire and equip all students to continuously acquire and apply knowledge and skills while pursuing their dreams and enriching the lives of others. When we engage with potential and new staff, this is one of the first things that we teach them because it drives everything we do with those we serve. By focusing on the word ‘enriching,’ Warsaw Schools create safe and sound learning environments and classrooms that make children feel safe and develop positive relationships with students. 

“For the past six years, my wife and I have chosen to enrich our own personal lives as well. We have been on the journey of being foster parents and have provided care for over 15 different children from time to time. In May of 2021, my wife and I added two little girls to our family whom we had been fostering. I’m pretty sure that these two little ones have enriched my life far more than what I have done for them. Nevertheless, they have also taught me that the work is far from over. We learned right away that neglect and abuse looks very different and the effects can last a lifetime. We’ve learned that just being in our family doesn’t erase what has happened and that we cannot just invest a little because the work is never done,” he said.

Horrell said efforts cannot stop within the confines of schools, they must extend into the communities and beyond.

“We must continue to nurture partnerships with parents, law enforcement, social services and other stakeholders to form a united front against child abuse. The need is high but together, we can make a tangible difference — one child at a time,” he said.

Following the speakers’ remarks, those assembled marched around the courthouse square and planted additional pinwheels to raise awareness and promote solutions that address the causes of child abuse.

The pinwheel was introduced in 2008 as a national symbol for child abuse prevention. It also represents efforts to change the way the nation thinks about prevention by focusing on community activities and public policies that prioritize the prevention of child abuse and neglect, according to a news release provided at the event from Bowen Center.