April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month and I believe child advocates must use this as an opportunity to advance two important goals:
When it comes to evaluating the prevalence and impact of child abuse and neglect, the numbers tell a frightening tale. The Kids Count Data Center, a joint research product of Oklahoma Institute for Children Advocacy or OICA and the national Annie E. Casey Foundation, reports that of the more than 200,000 children in Oklahoma County under the age of 19, there are 41 percent who have had an adverse childhood experience
On a statewide level, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ statistics paint an equally grim picture. Since 2014, more than 363,000 cases of alleged abuse and neglect have been reported to the agency. More than 44,000 were eventually confirmed.
OICA and many other organizations are working to bring awareness to how widespread this problem is and the terrible toll it takes on our children. We will be hosting our first Advocacy Day at the Oklahoma State Capitol on May 10, which will highlight a luncheon speaker who will share a personal story of his abuse and how he was able to break the cycle and become a leader in his community helping make a difference in the lives of others.
Several of our nonprofit allies will also host awareness events that we encourage our supporters to take part in. Parent Promise, an Oklahoma nonprofit organization that works to prevent child abuse and neglect through parent education and support, is working to develop pinwheel gardens. These will be displayed throughout the month and across the state. Organizations and businesses across Oklahoma will build pinwheel gardens at their places of business during the month of April. The pinwheel is the official symbol of Prevent Child Abuse America and represents the happy childhoods all children deserve. We encourage you to develop your own and share on our Facebook page.
Additionally, the annual Field of Flags will again be displayed at the Oklahoma State Capitol. The Exchange Clubs of Oklahoma City will present the memorial display of American and Oklahoma flags on the State Capitol grounds to raise awareness about the importance of investing in child abuse and neglect prevention programs. The Oklahoma Field of Flags remembers the 57 Oklahoma children who died from abuse and neglect in 2015, and the American flags represent the thousands of children across the country who are victims of child abuse and neglect every year.
Legislators and government officials will hold a press conference and ceremony at 8:30 a.m. April 24. This is open to the public to attend and show support for awareness efforts.
Most importantly, please play a part in helping protect children yourself. If you have a valid reason to suspect a case of abuse or neglect, please report it to the proper authorities. To help break the cycle of abuse, we need strong, nurturing communities to help share the message that abuse must stop and that we need greater efforts to help children who are suffering.