April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, so in addition to their daily work in support of local families, the staff at Elbert County Health and Human Services has been busy with outreach to county organizations and citizens.
One of the first stops was the Elbert County Courthouse in Kiowa for a presentation to the Board of County Commissioners. At its March 30 meeting, the BOCC issued a proclamation declaring April Child Abuse Awareness month in Elbert County in concert with a state and national campaign.
Jerri Spear, director of Elbert County HHS, along with Sherry Hansen, protective services administrator, explained the role of HHS along with many of the activities planned for April.
“Historically child welfare has been thought of in the media and in the public lately as the agency that comes in and takes children away. Really that’s not what we want to do,” Hansen told the BOCC. “Obviously there are situations where we have to do that if there are dangerous behaviors going on within the family home.”
HHS is now using a team approach to work with many referred families, using preventative measures rather than forwarding cases to the courts.
“Once we get a referral and decide we are going to work with a family, we have meetings regularly with whoever they want to have around the table as well as some of our folks at our agency to try and come up with good plans to provide the resources if we can,” Hansen said.
On average, the county receives 270 referrals of potential child abuse or neglect each year, which translates to around 100 children served each year by HHS.
“Currently, we have 23 children that are placed out of their family home,” she said.
As part of the campaign, HHS is promoting the statewide hotline, established in Colorado in April 2015. The 1-844-CO-4-KIDS hotline works in conjunction with county hotlines to reduce the jurisdictional confusion that occasionally arose when citizens reported suspected cases of abuse or neglect across county lines.
In addition to promoting the hotline, Hansen and her team will be visiting abuse prevention partners as well as meeting with the community at large.
“You’ll see some pinwheel gardens around the county. We want kids to be able to be kids. And the pinwheel is the symbol that represents that, because they are fun,” she said.
The pinwheels were introduced in 2008 as a national symbol for child abuse prevention as part of the Pinwheels for Prevention Campaign.
According to the Prevent Child Abuse America webpage, people have responded well to the pinwheel: “By its very nature, the pinwheel connotes whimsy and childlike notions. In essence, it has come to serve as the physical embodiment, or reminder, of the great childhoods we want for all children.”
Throughout the month, HHS will continue to meet with schools, talk with its mandated partners in law enforcement, and host an appreciation lunch at Spring Valley Ranch for foster families and other community partners.
“Our goal with the department of human services is to keep kids in their communities and at home if we can do that, and … to maintain safety; that’s the number one priority,” Hansen said. “Safety and permanency, which means having kids in a permanent place, hopefully with family.”