Child abuse rates in Morgan County have fallen below the State of Georgia’s average, but there is still much work to be done, according to Velde Hardy, director of Morgan County Family Connection.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and local community leaders gathered for the annual Pinwheel Ceremony last week to formally recognize the local victims of child abuse and to recommit themselves to the work of keeping children safe and families strong.
“Each of us here today have come to stand together in unity to ensure our children have a safe and joyful childhood and that all of our parents have all the skills and resources they need,” said Hardy at Thursday’s ceremony.
Hardy announced that this year marks for the first time in recent years that Morgan County’s rate of substantiated child abuse incidents have fallen below Georgia’s state average.
“Our rate has declined but we still have to work together because we are still seeing harmful trends that still affect our community,” said Hardy.
According to Hardy, in 2016, Kids Count data showed the rate of substantiated cases, to be 5.1 (rate per 1,000 children under age 18). This is far below the 16.4 rate the county experienced in 2014.
“While we can celebrate the steady decline we have experienced over the past five years, we are sadly aware the 5.1 rate equates to a total of 21 children – children who have in some way been abused and/or neglected. So our work is far from over, as we adamantly believe even if only ONE child is abused, it is still ONE too many,” explained Hardy. “Therefore, Morgan County Family Connection will continue to bring awareness to this important issue. With the steady rise of children being taken into care due to parental drug use, we understand our work is far from complete. We will continue to facilitate the partnerships necessary to create a community saturated with the support- and evidenced-based programs necessary to ensure all children are safe and all families are strong and self-sufficient. These partnerships help to ensure home visiting programs like the Parents as Teacher program as well as the information and referral-based programs like First Steps remain funded and implemented locally. We will also work to increase the training opportunities available to our local partners like the ‘Stewards of Children’ training held earlier this week. As Morgan County Family Connection continues to bring all sectors of the community together for various events, programs and trainings, we know our partners will continue to embrace their individual piece of the plan as we all come to realize – together we can make a positive difference in the lives of those who need us most.”
Cassondra Jones, director of Morgan and Greene Counties’ Department of Children and Family Services, encouraged the attendees to get involved to stop child abuse and neglect.
“It takes all of us as a community to support our children in having a great childhood,” said Jones. Jones encouraged families to volunteer with child welfare organizations or to consider becoming a foster family for Morgan’s increasing foster child population.
“Our number of foster children has nearly doubled in the last year,” said Jones.
Superintendent Dr. James Woodard and Morgan County Sheriff also spoke during Thursday’s ceremony, stressing the role of education and law enforcement in cultivating a safe community for all children.
“These kids are looking to us to make sure we are looking out for them,” said Sheriff Markley. “This is a cycle that continues and continues if it’s not broken.”
“Until we don’t have a trend at all in child abuse, we have to pull out all the stops to help our people,” said Woodard. Woodard noted the school system recently added mental health counselors to help counsel students and identify victims of abuse.
Morgan County Commissioner Ron Milton and Madison Mayor Fred Perriman jointly read a proclamation committing Madison and Morgan County to the fight against child abuse and neglect.
“Every child deserves to be cared for in a safe and nurturing environment, free from verbal, sexual, emotional and physical abuse and neglect; and safe and healthy childhoods help produce confident and successful adults,” read Milton. “Child abuse and neglect can be reduced by making sure families have the support they need to raise their children in a healthy environment; and children who are abused and neglected are more likely to engage in criminal behavior and struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. A large number of these victims have difficulty maintaining healthy, positive relationships as adults and experience low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness; and we all have a responsibility, as neighbors and community members, to look out for one another and help keep each other safe from harm,” read Perriman.
“In Morgan County effective child abuse prevention programs succeed because of ongoing partnerships created among social service agencies, schools, civic and religious organizations, law enforcement agencies, families, caregivers and members of the business community,” read Milton.
For more information on the work of Family Connection please contact Velde Hardy at 706-438-1515 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.