KISSIMMEE – Driving around the Kissimmee area, Joy Chuba noticed it: the color blue, starting to pop up in certain places.
“I have seen, just driving through the county, pinwheels at the Osceola School for the Arts, and the city of Kissimmee has blue bows on their trees,” she said.
In fact, the entire city will be thinking blue this evening, when city leaders will read a proclamation at Kissimmee City Hall at 6 p.m., encouraging Osceola County residents to display blue throughout this month.
“We are painting the town blue and we are encouraging citizens to display blue any way they can, whether it’s wearing blue, putting a blue ribbon on their mailbox — whatever they can do to support it,” Chuba said.
It’s not a fashion statement, but rather designed to raise awareness of an important issue. Throughout the month of April, the Children’s Advocacy Center for Osceola County, Inc., where Chuba works as the executive director, is joining the National Children’s Alliance and its thousands of members and supporters across the country to raise awareness of child abuse intervention and prevention.
Children’s Advocacy Center is using this initiative, known as Paint The Town Blue, to focus attention on the issue of child abuse.
The Osceola Safe Families Task Force, an initiative of the Children’s Advocacy Center, engages in regular public awareness campaigns, and during the month of April, Osceola County businesses, partner agencies, local law enforcement, state and local government, and county residents are being encouraged to show support for this cause by displaying splashes of blue whenever and where ever they can.
Today, pinwheel gardens will be planted around Osceola County, since pinwheels are the statewide symbol for child abuse prevention. Chuba said they’re encouraging residents to show additional signs of blue on doors, mailboxes, trees, and in other public areas, while Prevent Child Abuse magnets will be placed on city vehicles throughout the county.
Teresa Huizar, executive director of National Children’s Alliance, noted that her agency and its partners and supporters are striving to “put an end to child abuse and neglect through effective programs and services for victims of abuse and their families. Without the coordinated prevention and intervention efforts of children’s advocacy centers around the country, so many children would not be served in times of need.”
That’s why, she said, they hope to use this public awareness campaign to get people to think about agencies that work so hard to prevent this abuse — and about supporting their efforts with financial donations.
“We ask our fellow citizens to join us in educating the public on the signs of abuse and calling attention to this national issue by supporting local child abuse intervention and prevention organizations throughout the month of April and year-round,” Huizar said.
This is also a simple but effective way for families to show they care about children who are suffering from abuse, Chuba said.
“Pinwheels are the statewide symbol for child abuse prevention, and they are blue and displayed throughout the county, and we have schools that have displayed them, too,” she said. “We are trying to get the community to recognize the problem of child abuse. It is significantly under-reported.”
As Chuba noted, Children’s Advocacy Centers provide a critical safety net for Central Florida children. There were more than 3,367 reports of suspected abuse involving Osceola County children last year.
“We need to continue efforts to strengthen families and prevent incidents of child abuse and neglect,” she said. “We believe that our local community should become more educated about the prevalence of child abuse and how to recognize signs of abuse. During the month of April, the issue of child abuse will be at the forefront of national discussions, and we encourage residents to become involved in the solution and actively engage with prevention and awareness efforts.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Children & Families, in 2010 alone, an estimated 1,560 children died from abuse and neglect.
Children’s Advocacy Center for Osceola County, Inc., was formed in 2003 to counter that sad trend.
“We serve as the investigative hub for all of the investigators when there’s an alleged child abuse case,” Chuba said. “We ensure the children get all the services they need throughout the course of the investigation, reducing trauma to them. We moved into our state of the art facility in 2009, and all the investigators come here, including the medical providers, child advocates and therapists. We provide a continuum of care from the moment we get into the pipeline. We also help the family recover from an incident of child abuse, and for some families, it’s connecting them with immediate family health services.”
But the recession has had an unfortunate impact on the agency, which relies on state and federal grant funding, as well as public donations. As the economy got worse in the past few years, their funding sources took a hit.
“There’s been a significant impact with the reduction in grant awards and private donations and fund raising, and we do rely on our community to assist us,” Chuba said. “We currently operate on minimal staff. We have three employees, and it is a challenge. However, we’re able to accommodate every case that comes into the Center, by assigning an advocate to work on the investigation.”
For more information on how to get involved in April’s local events and the Paint the Town Blue Campaign, log on to wwww.osceolakids.com.
The Children’s Advocacy Center of Osceola County is at 704 Generation Point in Kissimmee. To learn more, call 407-518-6936.
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