If you think you have noticed an uptick in the number of child abuse and neglect cases in the northern panhandle in the last few months, that’s because there has been one, and another community wore wearing blue Monday to bring awareness to Child Abuse Prevention month.
Brooke County Prosecutor Joe Barki explains that a lot of these child abuse cases and hearings happened behind closed doors to protect children, so the public displays of support this April help recognize all of the work being done.
“It think it’s important because a lot of that isn’t seen by the public, that we kind of stand out and wear blue to show our support for that,” Barki said.
“It takes an effort by the entire community to protect our children,” added Comfort House director Jim Penebaker.
The need to protect our children, especially from sexual abuse, is at an all time high according to community leaders.
A Child’s Place CASA executive director Rhonda Stubbs says they have had more cases in the first three months of 2016, than all of last year combined. Penebaker says their numbers are up, too.
“Between Brooke and Hancock county for our year at Comfort House, we’ve almost double the amount of interviews we’ve done from the previous yeah,” Penebaker said.
However, Prosecutor Barki says the increase is in part due to greater awareness.
“These are things that in the past were often just swept under the rug or kept behind closed doors within families,” Barki said. “Now, people understand the importance of reporting.”
CASA and Comfort House work sided-by-side daily with, not only the prosecutor’s office, but CPS, law enforcement, school counselors, and doctors to help children in the Ohio Valley.
“Without the assistance of both of these groups the process of handing these cases for the prosecutors office would be much more difficult. Their services are really invaluable to what we do her,” said Barki.
Both Organizations assist children and their families, but in different ways. Comfort House comes in almost immediately and is there for the initial stages of the investigation. They also help victims and family members understand the legal processes, such as plea bargains and trials. CASA makes sure victims receive the therapy that they so desperately need, among other services.
“Making sure people are held accountable and victims feel like justice has been served is very healing,” says Stubbs.
There are several more events for child abuse prevention and awareness happening this month, including the CASA quarter action on April 30 and Darkness to Light workshop at the Mary H. Weir library. It is Wednesday, April 27 at 5:30 p.m. They encourage the public to attend to learn about recognizing the signs of a child being sexually abused and how to report it.