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Child abuse continues even in pandemic

Each April, gardens of hundreds of twirling blue pinwheels are planted in different areas of the Mahoning Valley.

They aren’t there as a source of entertainment or to mark the onset of spring. Rather, they exist to draw attention to a dark truth that many of us don’t regularly think about.

Each pinwheel is placed to represent a local case of reported child abuse and neglect. Known as “Pinwheels for Prevention,” they spin in the sunlight to send a critical message during Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month.

Understandably, some communities felt obliged this year to pass on the project because of stay-at-home orders issued by Gov. Mike DeWine due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those communities that did place the pinwheels opted against the usual kickoff events that typically help to draw attention.

Without the big splash this year, I was moved to devote this space to remind readers of the crisis that remains real.

In fact, that crisis may be even worse this year for many of our area’s youngest victims who are forced to stay home with abusive adults because schools are closed. Sadly, in many cases, the school day, teachers and friends may be the only escape for these child abuse victims.

Marilyn Pape, director of out-of-home services for Trumbull County Children Services, told our reporter Bob Coupland last week that when DeWine ordered Ohioans to stay at home in March, the agency saw a drop in referrals, triggering concern.

Teachers are big part of the reporting system that helps get kids help.

Mahoning County Children Services agency spokeswoman Jennifer Kollar says with kids home from school and parents home from work, more potential exists for abuse. The agencies want you to know they still are operating and taking reports of child abuse and neglect and they are investigating.

Local officials urge people to check on families and friends during this pandemic when most people are staying home, and to be alert to both physical signs but also the behavioral signs of abuse.

Here are the physical signs they advise us to look for: injuries such as burns, bruises or black eyes as well as signs of neglect including poor hygiene or malnourishment. Behavioral signs include fear, anxiety, sudden mood swings or changes in behavior, frequent absences or a reluctance to go home.

Other behavioral signs also include eating disorders, self harm, running away or substance abuse.

MCCS encourages people to take it seriously when a child talks about being abused or if they have suspicions. The agency suggests remaining calm while listening to the child, write down what they say and report it to the police or to the MCCS at 330-941-8888.

Trumbull County Children Services also has a 24-hour child abuse hotline at 330-372-2010.

Ways to prevent child abuse while staying at home include reducing stress and keeping busy — for example checking in on family and friends, going for a walk, reading or playing board games.

Trumbull County went ahead with its pinwheel display last week erecting more than 1,600 bright blue pinwheels on the front lawn of Warren City Hall. Each represents one of the 1,631 reports in 2019 of child abuse and neglect in Trumbull County. The pinwheels will remain in place all month. Niles also has a display in front of its administration building.

Stacy Ferencik, community liaison and recruitment specialist for Trumbull County Children Services, said the monthlong campaign enhances community awareness of child abuse and neglect and encourages support for a safer community for children.

Local residents can participate and draw attention to the child abuse issue by displaying blue pinwheels at home or in the garden.

Here are resources where people can find help:

l Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-422-4453;

l Mahoning County Children Services: 330-941-8888, www.mahoningkids.com

l Trumbull County Children Services 24-hour abuse hotline: 330-372-2010

l Ohio Children’s Trust Fund: www.octf.ohio.gov

l Prevent Child Abuse America: www.preventchildabuse.org

Linert is editor of the Tribune Chronicle and The Vindicator.

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