Child abuse, a ‘public health epidemic’ in Genesee County, needs community collaboration for prevention, experts say
GENESEE COUNTY, MI — Genesee County had nearly 2,000 child abuse victims in 2013.
The community needs to do better and needs to do more, local officials say.
Of those victims, 1,050 were under the age of 5. Of those, 35 were reported as severely beaten in 2013.
“We have to educate. You have to get mad about what’s going on,” said Robert Ennis, president for Ennis Center for Children in Flint.
Whaley Children’s Center brought together more than 75 health care professionals, law enforcement officials, businesses and school and community leaders Friday, March 13, to discuss child abuse in Genesee County.
The meeting was in preparation for the Paint Our Town Blue campaign, which kicks off in April during Child Abuse Awareness Month.
This is the second year that the community leaders were brought together to have a discussion about what could be done to prevent child abuse and neglect. This year, the hope was to produce some concrete strategies, said Kevin Roach, president and CEO of Whaley Children’s Center.
“I think what we’re really excited about is really trying to bring about awareness of this public health epidemic not only that is happening in our community but nationwide,” Roach said.
It’s time to take a step forward and turn words into action, Roach said.
Over the past three years, 21 children have died from abuse, according to a previous Flint Journal report.
Every police department in the county reported some sort of child abuse to the Michigan State Police in 2012, with 625 cases ranging anywhere from one case reported to Mott Community College police to 231 cases reported to Flint police.
“How can people neglect a child? How can you physically hurt a child? You have these statistics and you think, what can we do?” said Genesee County Undersheriff Chris Swanson. “The more you think about it, really, you can just do your part. … You can’t give up. None of us can.”
Whaley Children’s Center officials are calling on the community to do their part in getting the awareness out. They want to paint the city blue in the hopes of getting people to ask question. Whether through wearing blue, creating a blue pinwheel garden or selling paper pinwheels, they are asking the community to participate and spread the word.
But it has to be more than that, said Ennis.
“We can’t just paint this town blue this month. We have to paint this town blue every day,” he said.
April 24 is Wear Blue Day. For more information about the Paint our Town Blue campaign, click here.
There are many ways to help.
Saving children from abusive situations can start with a phone call.
The number to report suspected abuse — 855-444-3911 — is a statewide number available around-the-clock, 365 days a year.
Going forward from these discussions, Roach and other community leaders hope to see all the experts come together in one place to prevent child abuse. They want to pump up their prevention efforts and create a center to facilitate all the expertise under one roof.
An example they gave on Friday was the Chadwick Center for Children and Families in San Diego. It has forensic and medical services, a failure to thrive clinic, kids and teens court training, professional and education services and trauma counseling services — all in one place.
The hope is to create a children’s political action committee to give the issue of child abuse more attention with legislators. And to create more programs, such as Project Safe Place, which would bring training in the schools, create crisis counseling and intervention and create safe havens throughout the community for children who are being harmed or in danger of being harmed.
Swanson said he hoped the community leaders didn’t leave the discussion with a lot a great ideas that don’t result in action. There’s something that everyone can do, he said.
“When you are willing to pitch kids aside, then that community is broken,” Swanson said.