By Johnny Jackson
Penny Gresham's job as a counselor at Wesley Lakes Elementary School is more than academic.
She works daily with the school's social worker, Matthew Taylor, to be sure students there are healthy in mind and body.
Gresham teaches them what is appropriate when communicating with other people. Students at the school take part in the three-day program known as "Good Touch, Bad Touch," a curriculum-based program that is repeated at elementary schools throughout the region to help prevent sexual abuse.
"Henry County Schools offers annual training to all staff to increase awareness and knowledge of indicators of child abuse or neglect," said Jessica Stormer, student services coordinator for Henry. She recommends that any citizen who becomes aware of suspected child abuse or neglect report it to the Department of Family and Children Services, or law enforcement authorities.
It is important for adults to do their part in preventing and addressing child abuse, added Robin Jones, program coordinator for Prevent Child Abuse (PAC) Henry County.
The non-profit organization, which advocates for the well-being and welfare of children, has existed in Henry for the past 15 years. A part of Prevent Child Abuse Georgia, the organization offers resources to daycare professionals and school counselors, as well as to families at-large.
"It's important for people to be aware and not be afraid to intervene," said Jones, adding that there were more than 2,000 reports of child abuse and neglect in Henry during 2008.
In 2006, 92,952 reports were made to the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services.
Data from the National Runaway Switchboard, which handles more than 100,000 calls annually, indicates that its callers are getting younger. According to the organization, there were 6,884 crisis callers last year, who said they had been abused or neglected, compared with 3,860 in 2000 - a 78 percent increase over the eight-year period.
Steve Simpson, an advocate for children and author of the novel "Runaway," correlated the most recent increase in child abuse and neglect cases to existing economic woes. "The economic problems will get better," Simpson said. "Stocks will go up. But a young person's life is a stock we can't afford to have go down. It is important that we recognize that the economy affects more than income and jobs; it affects at-risk children significantly."
April is nationally recognized as Child Abuse Prevention Month, when organizations, such as the National Runaway Switchboard and Prevent Child Abuse Henry County campaign to bring more light to the issues plaguing children, who are experiencing abuse and neglect.
"We're trying to make everyday people aware of child abuse and how they can help prevent it," said Robin Jones, of PCA Henry County. "There are so many different things to identify abuse, depending on your role and what you're seeing."
PCA Henry County sponsors an on-going parental education program, known as The First-Steps Program, offered at Henry Medical Center. "The program uses trained volunteers to assist parents in developing parenting skills and accessing resources for whatever needs they may have," Jones said.
In April, PCA Henry County will continue its efforts to raise awareness of child abuse and neglect. At noon on April 17, the nonprofit will host its Seventh Annual Pinwheels for Prevention Campaign event on the McDonough Square.
Then, select students from East Lake Elementary School and Union Grove Middle School will plant 2,086 pinwheels into the ground as a symbolic reminder, representing the number of reported cases of child abuse and neglect in Henry.
On the net:
Prevent Child Abuse Georgia: www.preventchildabusega.org