According to Pat's Place Child Advocacy Center in Charlotte, there were 14,401 child abuse cases reported in Mecklenburg County during the 2013-'14 fiscal year.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and for the fourth straight year, members of the Mecklenburg Child Abuse Prevention Team (MCAP) will be campaigning to raise awareness for ways to be proactive about reducing the numbers listed above.
MCAP is a network of representatives working with a number of child-serving organizations throughout the county, from agencies like Pat's Place to bigger and broader organizations like CMS and YMCA.
This year, MCAP and other volunteers will be planting blue pinwheel gardens throughout the city, including at 50 schools, to raise awareness for the programs and services that can help prevent child abuse. In the lead-up to a March 31 press conference marking the beginning of the April campaign, Creative Loafing spoke with LuAnn Ritsema, co-chair of MCAP, about how the group has adapted over the last four years.
Creative Loafing: How are things changing this year with the MCAP campaign, if at all?
LuAnn Ritsema: We're starting to look at how to expand it a little bit. We start gathering in the fall to see how we can build our efforts around Child Abuse Prevention Month because that's a great time to do it. This year we added a small website (www.meck4kids.com) and have started social media pages. Part of that hope is to begin having some tools to help us keep the message going longer — past April — and have resources up that will be available any time.
How does MCAP's work differ from the work done year-round by the individual organizations involved?
One of the things we want to focus on is how to keep child abuse from even happening; what are the things that we all can do to keep kids safe? That includes things like support for families and parents; training and educating people on what the signs of abuse can be; how to report that; how to talk with children and teenagers; how to help them understand what boundaries are and how they can be agents in their own safety; finding people that they can trust to talk to if they feel uncomfortable in some way; and understanding those rights and responsibilities.
What are some key aspects of child abuse prevention education?
We sometimes think that abuse is just physical or sexual abuse, it can also be verbal or emotional abuse. So, one of the best things we can do is talk with our children about how to prevent becoming a victim and teach them some basic safety skills. Let them know they can talk with you about anything that bothers them. There are some different things that people use to do that, such as talking about the difference between having a good secret or a bad secret. Another thing is helping kids understand that their bodies belong to them and helping them understand the names of their body parts and things like that. Also, training parents for when a child comes to talk to them; how to talk to them if they suspect something is happening, to remain calm and make sure they're listening carefully and creating that safe space for children to talk about whatever is bothering them.
How does MCAP's work translate into schools?
We have reps from CMS schools on the team with us and they've developed curriculum. We've expanded it each year so now we have one that goes from kindergarten through 5th grade. They have developed lesson plans that they use in the classrooms, and they've also shared them with us so that they are also available on our website in our resources section. We're also looking at how to develop programs for middle schools and high schools through social media.