The silver and blue pinwheels, 185 in all, spun in the breeze on the lawn of the Tuolumne County Superior Court number Thursday afternoon.
Each of the little twirling monuments represented a reduction in reports of abuse received by the Tuolumne County Department of Child Welfare Services (CWS) in 2016 compared to the previous year.
The campaign, a visual commemoration of Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month in April, signified a success for CWS in its effort to bring educational and familial aid to a community coalition dedicated to ending child abuse, neglect and exploitation.
CWS Deputy Director Cori Allen said her department received funding from the state for community child abuse prevention activities, and the Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month program throughout April would contribute to broadening awareness for children struggling with difficult home lives.
“Pinwheels for Prevention is a campaign that acknowledges the effort that communities engage in to prevent child abuse,” she said. “The pinwheel represents a prevented case of abuse or any chance of outreach that can lift up that child’s voice. We planted the garden at the courthouse this year for the first time.”
The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors officially proclaimed April Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month with the theme of “Building Community, Building Hope,” during its Tuesday meeting.
A board resolution notes, “partners in prevention are engaging in discourse around understanding trauma and its impacts on parents, child and community resiliency… preventing child abuse is everyone’s responsibility.”
The resolution also notes that the 703 referrals of child abuse or neglect to the county in 2016 reflects a 20.8 percent decrease in the prior year’s referral count.
At the board meeting, children from the Tuolumne, Jamestown and Groveland Youth Centers also received awards for the 29th annual poster and poetry contest hosted by the Tuolumne County Recreation Department.
Tuolumne Youth Center Coordinator Laurie Britt said the awards were divided into different age groups, for grades first through third, fourth through sixth, and for middle schoolers and high schoolers.
These are very difficult ideas to get across to the kids,” she said. “But a lot of our kids understand it. We get a cross of a lot of different kind of families. Some kids come from dysfunctional and not so great places to be and coming from a dysfunctional home where things are not going well as they could be going. They know people that needed the community to come together for them.”
The posters featured drawn descriptions of “Building a Strong Community,” often containing domestic scenes with homes, happy families and joyful people. One poem read during the meeting featured an acrostic of the word “Strength” and the necessary requirements for fostering a supportive community coalition.
Following the presentations, District 1 Supervisor and Board Chairwoman Sherri Brennan said,
“I just want to again thank all of our youth center coordinators and everyone involved in this program. We've seen so many examples this morning of how important this is... Please share our appreciation of the work they have done.”
The child presentations are just an offshoot of the work that the CWS does with family communities throughout the year.
Oftentimes, Allen said, preventing child abuse starts higher up with the parents. By informing families of “protective factors,” homes can mitigate the potential of child abuse practice the building blocks for more constructive parenting skills.
“Families become stronger in their ability to raise children and foster a safe environment,” she said.
The enactment of the CWS’s abuse prevention tactics led to a better understanding of how trauma can affect the life of a child in a dysfunctional household. With the intervention of educated community partners, her office can often provide necessary aid, guidance and direction for families who may not be completely able to manage precarious situations alone.
“When the community is digging in and supporting families there can be a reduction in abuse because they are managing it at a family level,” she said. “It's a pretty incredible recognition of the change in our community’s approach.”
CWS Program Manager Michelle Clark said the office’s partnerships with Infant Child Enrichment Services, the District Attorney’s Office and law enforcement were essential to provisions of aid and education offered to families.
“We try to partner and team with the families that we work with and take a collaborative stance with our community agencies and partners,” she said.
On a daily basis, the office offers preventive services such as mandated reporter training and a differential response program. With so many community voices invested in child success, Clark said, the department can respond “earlier and more meaningfully to child maltreatment.”
“We respond to reports of allegations of abuse and if the report meets the criteria for an investigation then we investigate reports of child abuse, neglect, and exploitation,” she said.
Mandated reporters are jobs that are required by law to receive specific training to identify and report neglect, such as teachers, doctors, law enforcement, child welfare workers, social worker and therapists.
And broadening awareness of these issues in the community, Allen said, will assist more in providing services to abused or at-risk youth within the community.
“When you improve your educators ability to understand trauma they can educate better those children that are already at risk,” she said.