PROTECTING KIDS: It’s everyone’s job [with gallery]

Published 1:14 am Thursday, April 13, 2017

Members of the community, local law enforcement, child abuse workers and children gathered on the Court Square Wednesday morning to raise awareness of child abuse in Covington County.

Covington County Child Advocacy Center Director Kaci Perry shared that she was thankful for the 101 children who were able to tell their stories of abuse in a safe and friendly environment at the center.

She said those children received a total of 190 hours of counseling to help them heal.

Perry said she was thankful for the funding from ADECA and other agencies to help with the effort, and for the community who has rallied around children time and time again.

AES kindergartner Lucas Brown sang “God Bless the USA,” before Covington County District Attorney Walt Merrell spoke to the crowd.

Merrell encouraged the community to stand up and protect the “least of these.”

He talked about how the Bible often uses the illustration of a shepherd and how a shepherd, rather than sacrificing one for the rest of the flock, would leave the flock to rescue the one.

“That one deserves to be protected,” he said.

Merrell likened protecting children from abuse to being a shepherd.

He said that some people may argue what “under our care means.”

“Does that mean my three girls or my children and the children of my two brothers,” he asked. “I say, ‘no,’”

Merrell said there are many children who do not have a safe home.

He said that child abuse is often a silent predator because the victims don’t reach out.

“Most of the time they don’t know the wolf is circling,” he said.

Merrell said that often when community members see the signs of abuse, they look for reasons to disbelieve.

A good majority of abusers are relatives.

“Are we not to shepherd those in our flock?” he asked. “Or are we to leave them to the wolves?”

Merrell said that abusers see bruises and blood as trophies.

He said they count on the community to not be attentive, and tell children they are worthless and no one cares or loves them.

“They count on us to say we are not getting involved,” he said.

In 2015, 1,670 children died at the hands of their abusers.

Merrell said that even with the resources available that more than half of all victims of abuse don’t receive help.

Merrell said in Covington County last year, the Department of Human Resources found 104 reports of child abuse to be substantiated.

Eighty-two of those were confirmed physical abuse and 28 of those were sexual abuse.

“They are within our neighborhoods,” he said. “There may be a wolf among us today. There are a lot of wolves lurking in the shadows.”

Merrell said there needs to be two visual symbols of being a shepherd.

One that the community will no longer tolerate abuse and the second a visual system to the children that “We will be your hero.”

Merrell reminded the community members that they are the first line of defense and encouraged them to have a watchful eye and to report suspected abuse.

He complimented local law enforcement whom he said stand together to promote righteousness.

Merrell said there are naysayers who don’t think children of child abuse deserve to be helped, but law enforcement answers the task every year by protecting those who need help every day.

He said that the workers at DHR carry the shepherd’s staff.

“A lot would go without check,” he said. “Don’t grow weary of the task.”

He said that without their help and important component of restoration in a child’s life would be absent.

“It takes all of our efforts,” he said. “If one is hampered, crippled or missing, we are only as strong as our whole. Our duty is to be good shepherds.”

Merrell quoted Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

The Straughn Elementary School second grade class also sang “We are the Young.”