The Grayson County Health Department and Silverleaf Sexual Trauma Recovery Services are teaming up to educate the community about child abuse and sexual assault.
April is nationally recognized as Child Abuse and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and, according to Grayson County Health Department (GCHD) Community Health Educator Jenny Cummings, addressing these issues is more vital in Kentucky than ever because, for the last three consecutive years, Kentucky has ranked number one in the country for child abuse and neglect.
Kentucky, on average, reports 20.1 cases of child abuse per 1,000 children, while the national average is nine cases per 1,000 children. The highest rate of abuse is reported as occurring during a child’s first year of life, Cummings said.
Additionally, 70% of child abuse fatalities occur with children under 3 years old, with shaken baby syndrome the number one cause of child fatalities.
These numbers are striking, yet many are unaware that such abuse occurs so frequently. For that reason, officials have taken steps to educate the community during the awareness month.
First, Grayson County Judge Executive Kevin Henderson signed a proclamation last week declaring the month of April to be Sexual Assault Awareness/Child Abuse Awareness Month in Grayson County.
Cummings said the GCHD has also been planting signs for awareness around Grayson County alongside blue pin wheels, which have come to serve as the symbol for child abuse prevention as they represent a happy, healthy childhood.
Additionally, GCHD officials will soon publish a podcast in which they interview Dr. Jillian Carden, executive director of Silverleaf, about what constitutes child abuse; how to protect children from child abuse; and what the community can do to rally behind parents and children. A second podcast will be posted later in the month related to shaken baby syndrome.
Community members may also see banners or yard signs reading “Your Voice Has Power,” which is a message for both the community and survivors of sexual violence that all should speak up for those who have been hurt and help with their healing.
Carden said in a separate news release that nearly one in two women and one in five men in Kentucky will be sexually victimized at some point in their lives.
Officials are also planning a “Chalk the Walk” event on April 21, during which businesses, homes, and other entities will be encouraged to write messages of hope and encouragement for victims of sexual assault in chalk on their sidewalks.
While most think of child abuse as being physical, Cummings said, it can take several other forms as well, including verbal, sexual and emotional abuse; however, 74% of child abuse cases in Kentucky are cases of neglect, which is constituted by a lack of adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, etc.
Cummings also said that 30% of abused and neglected children will go on to abuse their own children.
“Abused people abuse people,” she said. “If we know better, we can do better.”
All year around, the GCHD strives to reduce the rates of child abuse through a variety of initiatives, most notably its HANDS program, which is free and evidence based.
Through HANDS, health department staff educates parents on what is normal for a child’s behavior and development, thereby establishing realistic expectations with less frustration in response.
“When we educate families on milestones and what to expect, we get better outcomes,” Cummings said, adding that the GCHD currently has 80 families enrolled in the HANDS program and checks in with them once per week.
HANDS is not income based, and is free and open to anyone in the community, “whether you’re a first time parent or have had more than one child,” said Cummings.
To report child abuse, call 877-KYSAFE1. For more information about the HANDS program call 270-259-3141.
Silverleaf is both a Child Advocacy and Rape Crisis Center, which means they serve individuals of all ages, regardless of when the abuse happened. All services are free of charge and include therapy, a 24-hour crisis line, and advocacy services.
It also provides free prevention and education training for other agencies, churches, businesses and the general community. Education programs include Internet Safety, Healthy Relationships, Human Trafficking, Sexual Assault Prevention, and Darkness 2 Light.
For more information about this agency, to seek services, and/or to donate, visit silverleafky.org.