“It shouldn’t hurt to be a child.”
The catchy tagline inscribed on specialized license plates in Arizona is a poignant reminder of the issue of child abuse. Historically, April is designated as Child Abuse Prevention Month and communities around the nation are promoting awareness to end violence against children. Chandler is committed to support these efforts.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that five children die every day as a consequence of child abuse, and the vast majority of cases involve children under the age of five. In Arizona, one child is abused or neglected every hour, 24 hours a day. These alarming statistics demonstrate the seriousness of the issue and the need to reverse current trends.
Unfortunately, Chandler has had its share of heartbreaking child abuse cases. In 2009, the violent murder of 3-year-old Schala Vera by her mother’s boyfriend prompted Chandler Police staff to take action and form the Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Coalition. The coalition aims at developing and advocating ways to safeguard our children and is now comprised of more than 50 professionals from fields as varied as healthcare, school districts, law enforcement, social services, media, non-profit, faith based groups and more.
On Saturday, April 7, the coalition will hold a free expo open to the public to kick-off National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The expo will have activities for kids and families, fun and informational booths, static displays of fire trucks, ambulances, police cars, a helicopter, as well as indoor training opportunities. The event is scheduled from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Tumbleweed Park, 745 E. Germann Road.
The key message regarding child abuse is that it is entirely preventable. Strengthening families, educating the public about the importance of reporting suspicious behaviors and promoting access to emergency resources can save lives.
In a recent Chandler in Focus cable program, I had the privilege of interviewing Christine Scarpati, chief executive officer of Mesa’s Crisis Center, and Katie Cain, Chander’s victim services coordinator with the police department. Both stressed the importance of reporting child abuse cases and asking for help when needed.
To report child abuse, please call the national hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD or visit its corresponding website at www.childhelp.org. Another option is to call Arizona’s CPS hotline at 1-888-SOS-CHILD and visit its website at www.azdes.gov.
Caregivers seeking advice regarding discipline, development, nutrition, sleep or other topics can call the Birth to Five helpline through First Things First at 877-705-KIDS and visit www.birthtofivehelpline.org.
Another noteworthy campaign is the Never Shake A Baby project, which addresses the dangers of shaken baby syndrome and provides tips to soothe a crying baby. Information can be found online at www.nsbaz.org.
Many other local and national agencies are dedicated to preventing child abuse and assisting those affected by it. The Child Crisis Center not only serves as the East Valley emergency shelter for children through the age of 11 but also offers foster and adoption services as well as a Family Resource Center with free parenting, anger management and many other family support classes. Specific information, including volunteer opportunities, can be found online at www.childcrisis.org.
The community can’t sit silently in light of child abuse issues. There are countless ways to get involved. Whether it is by becoming a foster or adoptive family, volunteering or making financial contributions to local agencies, purchasing a specialized Arizona license plate, or simply spreading the word about awareness and prevention campaigns, everyone has a responsibility to prevent child abuse. Not only is it the right thing to do, but we owe it to our children.
It truly “shouldn’t hurt to be a child.”
Kevin Hartke is a member of the Chandler City Council and senior pastor at Trinity Christian Fellowship. He has lived and worked in Chandler for 26 years.