By Magen McCrarey
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
More than 50 community members gathered on the Laurel County Courthouse steps Friday evening to be the voices of the abused and neglected who go unheard. Crystal Mayes of Laurel County's Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) organized the event in light of April being Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month.
"Child abuse prevention is a collaborative effort," Mayes said. "Martin Luther King Jr. once said, 'Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,'…tonight, we come together and become the voice for those that matter most, our children."
In 2012, there were 54,497 reports of child abuse or neglect, of those calls, 21,699 cases were substantiated. In Laurel County, there were 846 calls accepted for abuse and neglect, and of those, 256 children were involved in substantiated cases.
Family Court Judge Durenda Lundy Lawson said 242 of the most grievous child abuse cases went through her courtroom last year.
"Most of the time, those cases come to court from substance abuse of the parents. That is a big problem," Lawson said.
Commonwealth's Attorney Jackie Steele said, within his course of 10 years as a prosecuting attorney, he's seen hundreds if not thousands of children who've been neglected or abused, mentally, physically, and/or sexually.
"It's something that permeates our county from the top to the bottom, and most people don't see that, and don't understand that. As Judge Lawson said, it also permeates through drugs and alcohol in our community and it's a battle we are fighting on two fronts," Steele said.
One reason why some cases slip through the cracks he said is because, "we aren't neighbors anymore."
"We don't know who our neighbors are. We don't know if our kids are in need or not. Get to know your neighbors, get to know the kids in you community and see what their needs are, because maybe a child will confide in you."
Steele urged everyone to have a voice, and all it takes is a phone call to stop the abuse from going any further.
"People after the fact always say, 'Well, I saw this, or I saw that, and I never said anything,'…but when you see something, please say something to someone — a principal, a teacher, someone at your church, anyone," said Julie Russell, a concerned mother.
Other community voices who spoke out included Paige Lay, director of the Cumberland Valley Children's Advocacy Center, who serves eight counties in the Cumberland Valley Region; Laurel County Sheriff's Deputy Gilbert Acciardo; Steve Petro of Grace Fellowship Church; and Kentucky State Police Trooper First Class Don Trosper.
Guest singers included Magdlyn Mayes, Michel Mayes and Chenoa Partin.
If you believe a child is being abused or neglected, call the toll free Child Protection Hot Line at 1-877-KYSAFE1 or 1-877-597-2331. For more information, visit chfs.ky.gov.