FLORENCE, S.C. – Staff of the CARE House of the Pee Dee in Florence covered the lawn with 328 bright blue spinning pinwheels Monday in observance of Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month.
Each pinwheel represents a suspected child abuse victim the nonprofit interviewed in 2014.
The CARE House is a children’s advocacy center that provides a comprehensive team response to suspected or reported child abuse, neglect and exposure to domestic violence. The center offers forensic interviews, advocacy, therapy and support for victims and their families.
“The pinwheel represents what childhood should be –carefree and innocent,” said Meg Temple, executive director of the CARE House.
“I hate that there are so many pinwheels,” said Lawanda Baker, an in-take coordinator with the Care House. “But each is for a child that was able to get help and move forward.”
Baker said she finds joy in “seeing so many kids get help. ’
“ They have so much ahead of them despite what happened ,” she said . “ You don’t have to let your setback hinder your comeback.”
The pinwheels on the lawn represent “really a fraction” of the number of abused children in the Pee Dee, said Nicole Morris, a family and child advocate with the center.
“I’m kind of a liaison for them,” Morris said. She attends court with them and makes sure the child receives therapy if the family wants it. “To be a support system for them and help the family get closure is rewarding.”
“If three hundred and twenty-eight have received help , how many have not?” she said. “I think the community really tries to believe these things don’t happen.”
“This is really our time of year to make sure (people) focus on an issue they don’t want to talk about,” Temple said.
Sex abuse is an especially difficult subject for families to talk about, she said. “If I could have a hash tag for sexual abuse it would be #call-it-what-it-is,” Temple said.
Temple said there should be no shame in teaching children appropriate names for private parts.
“I could write a book on the funny names children learn from adults who are uncomfortable using a real word,” Temple said.
Children who may be willing to reveal that sex abuse is going on may not be able to communicate it without knowing appropriate names of body parts.
“There is a good likelihood the person won’t know they are talking about,” Temple said.
Her advice to parents is: Give appropriate names for body parts and start conversations early about what is off-limits in regard to touching.
Children are much more likely to be hurt by someone with regular access to them –such as a family member, Temple said.
She encourages parents to let children know they can talk to them about anything.
“We really encourage those conversations,” Temple said. “The child needs to know the parent is always going to be there to listen.”
Some children do not disclose such abuse because they have seen how uncomfortable a parent is in talking about private parts or the “birds-and-the-bees”.
While parents often put forth great effort in reminding children to wear their seat belt or look both ways before crossing a street, they often find themselves at a loss for words when it come s to talking about sexual abuse, Temple said.
Temple added that the friendly, “touchy-feely” nature of many Southern families can be a fault if a child doesn’t learn about respect for his or her own personal space.
Temple said that while several professionals such as teachers and doctors are bound to report suspected abuse, the general public should also feel a responsibility to report.
“I am going to report because ethically and emotionally protecting a child is the important thing to do,” Temple said. If it is suspected family member social services or law enforcement can be contacted and the person making the report can remain anonymous
“I’d rather be safe than sorry for that child,” Temple said. Suspicion does not mean a person must be absolutely sure of abuse.
“If you have concerns –to sleep good at night— make that phone call,” Temple said.
Social services and law enforcement work together. “I always suggest calling law enforcement,” Temple said.
When it comes to prevention of physical abuse at home, Temple suggests that there are alternative measures to spanking.
“If you choose to spank do not use objects,” Temple said. “I have seen situations with a parent spanking with a belt and the next thing you know the end of the belt buckle has come close to blinding a child.”
The CARE House teaches methods of time out but Temple said sometimes she hears people say time out doesn’t work.
“We know that it works and there is so much research behind it. Are you doing it right? Are you being consistent?” said Temple.
Both physical and sexual abuse can be generational.
Temple has met parents who admit they have kept their own sexual abuse a secret for years only to find out the same thing has happened to their child.
In other cases a child might feel abandoned.
Temple and her staff sometimes hear from clients: ‘I told my mom but she did not do anything’ or ‘she chose him over me.’
“They are really struggling,” Temple said.
“We are here to help families,” Temple said. She welcomes individuals with questions about abuse or reporting abuse to contact the center.
“We can’t make that decision for you but we can help you to understand your avenues,” she said.
The CARE House was founded in 2005 and has provided services to more than 1,860 children and their families since 2011. The organization serves Florence, Darlington, Marion, Marlboro, Chesterfield, Williamsburg, Dillon, Kershaw, Sumter, Lee and Clarendon counties.
The CARE House is at 1500 Patton Drive in Florence and can be contacted at 843-629-0236.