Ceremonies bring attention to child abuse

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published April 25, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated April 24, 2013 at 9:17 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Hayden Woods, a fourth-grader at Malvern Elementary School, places a pinwheel at the recent Child Abuse Awareness Rally at the Cooper-Anthony Mercy Child Advocacy Center in Hot Springs.

Scores of blue and silver pinwheels spinning in the breeze and sparkling in the sun Monday on the Saline County Courthouse lawn in Benton drew the attention of a small gathering.

“Aren’t they pretty?” asked Circuit Judge Gary Arnold. “Unfortunately, these represent the 115 children who have been ordered into foster care in Saline County at this time. There are too many pinwheels here today.”

Arnold, who handles all child-abuse cases in the county, was speaking in a ceremony proclaiming April as Child Abuse Awareness Month.

“I encourage all of you to be aware of child abuse,” he said. “It occurs in every section of society, in all economic, educational and cultural levels. It happens in families of all races and religions.”

A proclamation by Saline County Judge Lanny Fite, read by Arnold, said “the most vulnerable section of our society has a right to feel safe,” referring to children.

The Benton proclamation echoed the call for public awareness of child abuse that Hot Springs Mayor Ruth Carney referenced Friday during a similar ceremony at the Cooper-Anthony Mercy Advocacy Center.

Reading a proclamation, Carney said law enforcement and child

advocates who work to remove children from dangerous environments of abuse “brought wholeness to the community.”

In Garland County, a group of third- and fourth-graders from Malvern Elementary School in neighboring Hot Spring County placed 208 pinwheels on the lawn of the advocacy center, signifying the number of true findings of child abuse filed in the county in 2012.

Garland County Juvenile Judge Vicki Cook said organizations such as Court Appointed Special Advocates, the Cooper-Anthony Mercy Center and the Arkansas Department of Human Services combine their efforts to provide care for the bodies and minds of abused children.

“There is a lot that goes on in our community that people are not aware of,” Janice McCutcheon, director of the Cooper-Anthony center said. “There is no school safety drill for child abuse.”

The advocacy center is the state’s first hospital-based facility for child abuse and neglect.

“The advocacy center does the triage of abuse,” she said. “If it is determined there has been abuse and the child is not safe at home, in court the child could be placed in foster care, and that care is managed by a CASA volunteer. We serve many counties.”

At the center, a professional interviews a child to find out if he has been mistreated. In addition to finding out whether abuse or neglect has occurred, the approach produces evidence that will stand up in court if the investigation leads to prosecution, McCutcheon said.

Cook said that even with the information gathered by law enforcement agencies and the forensic interviews with children, it is hard to get criminal convictions for the abusers.

“The child can find safety in my court,” she said. “But prosecution is tough and the conviction record is not very high. I think sometimes people just cannot believe people could do the things we accuse them of doing.”

In Saline County, Arnold said he guesses that 90 percent of the cases prosecuted in the county are convicted.

“We have a very aggressive prosecuting attorney,” he said.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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