April puts focus on child abuse

Published 11:59 pm Monday, April 6, 2009

An alarming number of America’s children suffer abuse and neglect each day, and to bring more awareness to their plight, April has been designated as child abuse prevention month.

In 2008, there were 104 cases of suspected child abuse or neglect reported in Covington County, said Cathy Levering-ton, director of the Covington County Department of Human Resources.

“There is a need for increasing public awareness of the need to ensure the safety and welfare of children,” Leverington said. “Child abuse, under Alabama law, is harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or welfare. That abuse can occur through non-accidental physical or mental injury or sexual abuse.

“And anytime those instances are reported to us, we take those complaints very serious,” she said.

Anyone is encouraged to make a report if he or she suspects a child is being abused or neglected, she said.

“It could be that someone may observe an incident or an injury to a child and they’re uncertain as to the cause of it,” Leverington said. “They’re suspicious. That person can call us and we will talk with them to determine if abuse or neglect may have occurred.”

Additionally, reports can also be made to any law enforcement agency.

“A person doesn’t have to be certain that abuse or neglect has occurred before reporting it,” she said. “The only way you could be certain that it had occurred is if the person or other person admitted it. All that is required is a reasonable suspicion that a child is a victim of abuse or neglect. After investigating the report, it’s our job to determine whether it has occurred.”

Locally, there are nine employees in the Covington County DHR office assigned to work in the child and family services division.

“Our staff is dedicated to providing the services our children and families need,” Leverington said.

Locally, one business is working to bring more awareness about child abuse and neglect.

Three Notch Chiropractic Clinic, in conjunction with the Southeast Alabama Child Advocacy Center, is selling t-shirts for “Blue Ribbon Friday.”

“April 24 has been set aside as the day to make people more aware about child abuse,” said Tammy Harper of Three Notch Chiropractic. “We heard the advertisement on the radio about the day and knew we had to help.

The center is a private non-profit agency that supports child victims of sexual and severe physical abuse with forensic interviews and evaluations, counseling and support services, multidisciplinary team training and community education.

During the last fiscal year, 37 victims from Covington County were referred to Dothan for services.

“The Advocacy Center’s motto is ‘Just because you never see it; just because you don’t talk about it; just because you can’t believe it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening,” Harper said. “It does happen and it happens here.”

T-shirts are $10 each with all proceeds going to the CAC in Dothan. Deadline is April 8. Payment is required when placing an order and is tax-deductible. Contact Tammy Harper at 334-804-1967.