By Rob McDaniel
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — More than a hundred people gathered at the London Farmer’s Market Friday night to take a stand against child abuse.
April is recognized as Child Abuse Prevention Month and the Department of Community Based Services and other organizations teamed together for Friday’s event to increase awareness of child abuse and neglect.
In the attempt to increase awareness of child abuse and neglect, the event consisted of informational booths, live music, guest speakers and a candlelight vigil.
“Child abuse is defined as physical, sexual or emotional maltreatment of a child,” said event organizer Crystal Mayes, a Laurel County Social worker. “We’re here today to talk about the prevention of child abuse and raise awareness of that.”
Although children who died from abuse or neglect are down from the 2011-2012 reporting period, most people feel that even the loss of one child is far too many.
According to Youth.com website, the instances of child death by abuse and/or neglect in Kentucky dropped drastically between the end of the 2012 to the 2013 reporting period from 32 in 2011-2012 to only nine in 2012-2013. The numbers dropped again in the near-fatalities in 2013, from 44 in 2012 to 27 in 2013.
Reports of child abuse and neglect, however, increased in the 2013 reporting period. According to the website, approximately 50,000 reports were filed in 2013 statewide, up 1,000 from 2012. Substantiated (verified) abuse and neglect cases dropped in 2013, however, and most cases increased during the months of May and June.
“We have 25 to 30 cases of child abuse or neglect ongoing at any given time,” Mayes said. “Laurel County has the same amount of investigations going on in a week that some counties have in a month.”
With these statistics in hand, advocates of child protection strive to bring these facts to public awareness.
“It’s really unfortunate that child abuse is an issue at all,” said Mayes. “We need to take a proactive stance against child abuse and child neglect.”
As part of that proactive stance, several guest speakers stood in front of the large group of attendees to share a word about child abuse.
“By telling someone about child abuse you can put a stop to it,” said North Laurel Middle School student Ashley King in an essay she read to the attendees.
Laurel County Judge Executive David Westerfield encouraged people to keep their eyes open and look for signs of abuse or neglect, as they are often recognizable if a person were to pay attention.
“The people of Laurel County care about our kids,” Westerfield said. “We need to be doing this sort of thing every day. If we would just open our eyes and see the signs, we can finally put an end to child abuse.”
King and Westerfield were just two of the guests speaking the same message; Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele encouraged people to look, listen and report, urging people to not be silent about child abuse.
Before closing the ceremony, attendees were given candles and asked to take part in a moment of silence for the victims of child abuse.
If you believe a child is being abused, neglected or is dependent, please call the Child Protection Hot Line at (877) 597-2331 or the Laurel County Protection and Permanency office at (606) 330-2015.
Staff Writer Nita Johnson contributed to this story.