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April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month and the Lawrence County Department of Jobs and Family Services is honoring the month by trying to raise awareness.

“We want people to be aware that these unfortunate acts do happen and children are abused and neglected. And what we do is try to prevent that,” said Rich Blankenship, the assistant director at J&FS. “April is Child Abuse Prevention month, but really, it is not just April. This happens every day of the calendar year.”

Children who are abused and neglected often end up in the care of family services. Currently, 68 Lawrence County kids are in their care, whether it is foster homes or residential facilities.

“If we are involved in the case and if we have to remove children from the home because of that, it is our obligation to try to reunite the family, if at all possible,” Blankenship said. “We want people to recognize that child abuse is here, unfortunately, and to report suspected child abuse to us or to law enforcement.”

If you suspect abuse, you can call you can call Children’s Services at 740-532-3324.

To bring more awareness to the abuse problem, people are asked to wear blue on April 14 to show their support for prevention of child abuse and neglect.

Also on April 14, they will be putting silver and blue metallic pinwheels in front of the Jobs and Family Services building.

Neglect and abuse are two different things.

Neglect can be that children aren’t getting their medication or not going to school to get an education or not getting food.

He said some of the signs of physical abuse can be something such as visible bruising like a black eye or something subtle, like a child who is normally cheerful going through a personality change and becoming withdrawn or quiet. There is also emotional abuse when the child is subjected to harsh words and belittling.

“There are all types of signs that can be noted and our school teachers and school systems are pretty much our eyes and ears a lot of the time,” Blankenship said, since under normal circumstances they know the children and can tell if something suspect is going on.”

To help families reunite, Lawrence County Jobs and Family Services became part of the Ohio START program, which is funded through the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

One major issue in the cases they handle is that there is drug abuse in the household and the START program teams the family up with a peer mentor, who understands the issues. The current START mentor has been clean for three years.

“We put a recovering addict, who is working with us, to work with the drug-addicted parents,” Blankenship said. “They serve as a peer mentor to work closely with mom and dad and the kids to say ‘I’ve been through this’ and to help them see the problems. Often, they can offer an insight that maybe we can’t see. The program is going well, I think it is working.”

Blankenship said that having a peer mentor can be a good thing for the family, since the goal is to keep the children with their parents, safely.

“In my opinion, they relate to the peer mentor more and the peer mentor understands the situation,” Blankenship said. “Our workers may have seen it, but they haven’t experienced first-hand, like the peer mentor has.”

Ohio START is in almost all 88 counties in the state, although Lawrence County was among the first to join since so many cases involve parents with drug issues.

“And the more we learned about the program, the more we liked it,” Blankenship said. “And if families can stay safely together, we don’t have to take them into our care and spend $1.6 million in foster care, that’s how much we spent last year… $1.6 million.”

Lawrence County is always looking for foster care parents. If you are interested you can call Children’s Services at 740-532-3324.