ST. CLAIRSVILLE The Belmont County Commissioners passed a resolution Wednesday recognizing April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.
More than 1,500 children were served in Belmont County last year as a result of reports from concerned community members.
Commissioners recognized the right of every child to live and grow in a safe, secure and supportive environment, the need for caring adults to provide guidance, and support. Commissioners also noted the value of a community in breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect, and to improve family life by helping parents raise their children in a safe, nurturing environment.
Belmont County DJFS Director Dwayne Pielech noted the importance of raising awareness.
"This gives us an opportunity to remind the public that in your neighborhood, possibly in your family, and in your communities and all across America at any given time a helpless child is being abused," he said, adding that his department works with the commissioners, prosecutor, law enforcement and courts to prevent abuse.
He said last year the county saw 928 cases investigated, with 17 percent for physical abuse, 10 percent for sexual abuse, 40 percent for neglect or emotional maltreatment.
In addition, new computer systems and procedures mean that if a family with an abuse case moves, the case follows them electronically and officials in the other county are made aware.
Pielech said such cases are usually classified as a family in need, when the removal of the children is not warranted.
"These make up now 33 percent of the cases in Belmont County and it continues to increase every year, but we're fortunate because that gives us a chance to try to solve the problem before it gets worse," he said.
Alternative Response Another program the department uses to curtail problems before they escalated. Pielech noted that in the early 2000s, there were close to 80 children in the county's care. Now, there are 33 children in care.
"The numbers are dramatically different," he said, adding that two months ago there were 26 cases. "I count that as a community success."
H e credited the department's partnership with school districts, counselors and other professionals. He added that teachers at the schools are on the front line to observe signs of possible abuse.
Peilech added that they have 26 foster homes and are always in need of more volunteers.
"It's tough to be a foster parent," he said, noting the pain of growing attached to a foster child and then letting them go.
He added that about a dozen case managers are on-call.
Pielech also credited the establishment of Harmony House in the county in allowing neutral parties to interview the children and testify on their behalf if needed.
He noted one funding source were two levies totaling 1 mill, currently generating about $300,000. It will be up for renewal next year.
Blue pinwheels will be displayed on the courthouse stairs, each signifying a child abused in the county. This Wednesday will also be Wear Blue to Work Day, with all asked to wear blue as a reminder of the need for communities to work together to prevent child abuse. The annual child abuse prevention luncheon will be held Thursday at Undos.
DeFrank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org